Is Infrastructure the New Civil Rights Issue?: Or Why Newark and Flint Need A Marshall Plan.

I just wrote a short piece of reminiscence about Mother growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama where she would meet my father after going to north to Ann Arbor, Michigan for college.

It was my late mother who showed me the paradox of Blacks in the North and South; northern Blacks were burdened with the illusion of progress; Blacks in the South had few illusions. As a result, Southern Blacks, in the midst of official segregation, and even threats of violence, built up their own institutions.

No doubt the ongoing threat of violence and lack of social and economic opportunity led many Blacks to begin a process of migration North and West — particularly after the Second World War. The war had taught black Americans that industrial America had a place they could occupy, be it ever so grudging.

But as Detroit and Chicago and Cleveland became steel belt powerhouses, the reality of redlining and segregated housing patterns rigidified and deepened. By the middle Sixties the reality of these divisions exploded following the killing of Martin King.

Yet, America did basically nothing. Despite Lyndon Johnson’s avowal that “we shall overcome” he would quickly rebuff the findings of Otto Kerner’s commission appointed to uncover the origins for the urban unrest just. a few years after that pronouncement.

Yet, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon were all veterans of World War II — indeed every post war president since 1953 — one year before the Brown decision, knew of the Marshall Plan. Some had themselves been beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill — the “helping hand” that turned returning GI’s like my late father-in-law into a Ph. D.

Now as America and the Congress engage in what seems to be an wholly insincere debate about Black Reparations, we see the hypocrisy of our Nation’s historical commitment to justice in the plainest terms.

For even as the GI Bill was being administered, Retired General Lucius Clay had gone from Ike’s general staff to building our national highways. And, America had made another major commitment to infrastructure. But that postwar commitment was not to cities or urban ghettos but to Europe and the efforts at rebuilding the continent after the devastation of War. It was called the Marshall Plan.

So as Americans roil at the recent claims for Reparations, with dismissive arguments that no one can identify the inheritors of slavery’s benefited or burdened, we need only look at our cities — like Newark and Flint. We need to ask how a Nation could determine to rebuild a continent and another major power in the East, yet treat its own citizens with contempt.

The longer America waits to accept responsibility for its own “benign neglect” the harder will be the sentence. That sentence will be meted from the voices of those communities with glaring unmet needs that can no longer be ignored.

-Albert Turner Goins

[from 2019].