African-Americans are facing some tough realities in Washington state

by: Essex Porter Updated:

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SEATTLE - A Seattle participant in the civil rights March on Washington, D.C., said race relations have improved in the 50 years since that event. But civil rights lawyer Lem Howell believes there is still much to be done.

Howell was 27 years old when he skipped work and took an early bus from New York City on Aug. 28, 1963. He had recently left the U.S. Navy and felt he was missing the civil rights movement. "I couldn't, while I was a naval officer, partake in those, and so here was a chance to do some minor little thing," said Howell.

Howell's group got to the Lincoln Memorial early enough to be in the front rows for all the important speeches. But he said no one was sure the march would turn out to be peaceful, so he didn't bring his wife. "We were excited about it, but you know there was also the danger of violence," Howell said.

Instead, the march was inspiring, and Howell still grows emotional when he recalls the final words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech: "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" "It was like the whole spirit of the whole congregation went up with him," Howell said. "I still get very emotional when I think about that."

Speaking with people on Seattle's Martin Luther King Jr. Way Wednesday, we found King's dream alive. "We've got a lot more work to do," said musician Wendell Bullard, "but the racism and all that stuff, it's deceasing a little bit now, you know." However the numbers still show racial disparities. For example in King County, the overall unemployment rate is 5.1 percent, but the unemployment rate among African-Americans is more than three times that number. And while blacks make up just 4 percent of the state's population, they are 18 percent of the prison population. "I think we can do better," said Sonja Johnson. "I mean, we're still going through the same drama, same drama."

Lem Howell believes upper- and middle-class blacks have done pretty well over the last 50 years. But he said working-class African-Americans have suffered because many of the jobs they used to hold have been shipped overseas.