When I was in high school, quite a number of my classmates lived in Ferguson, Missouri. Then it was a blue collar suburb of St. Louis and many of its people worked in the factories that dotted North St. Louis. Over the years it has changed from a slightly gritty, mostly white working class suburb to a much tougher and all but entirely black enclave.
The factories are mostly gone, too, replaced by housing, warehouses, and empty spaces where factories used to be.
Joseph Epstein sees something missing from Ferguson and the episode of the killing of a black teenager (who would have been called “an adult” 50 years ago) by a policeman that has been attended by demonstrations and looting:
Missing, not that anyone is likely to have noticed, was the calming voice of a national civil-rights leader of the kind that was so impressive during the 1950s and ’60s. In those days there was Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Whitney Young of the National Urban League, Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute—all solid, serious men, each impressive in different ways, who through dignified forbearance and strategic action, brought down a body of unequivocally immoral laws aimed at America’s black population.
King died in 1968, at age 39; Young in 1971 at 50; Wilkins in 1981 at 80; and Rustin in 1987 at 75. None has been replaced by men of anywhere near the same high caliber. In their place today there is only Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, each of whom long ago divested himself of the moral force required of true leadership. One of the small but genuine accomplishments of President Obama has been to keep both of these men from becoming associated with the White House.
I don’t think that’s all that’s missing. The development he mourns parallels a development in the society as a whole, a loss of anything resembling community in favor of “looking out for #1”.
My mom used to point out that many of the poor, black kids she taught had the life ambition of being a “cat”, someone who hung out on street corners and made their livings in ways that were not obvious and probably not legal. Her explanation was that it was all that they knew. The dominance of what has been deemed “race hustling” parallels that. These are “cats” whose domain is the land between not-for-profits and government or large corporations.
What are missing are jobs. What is missing is hope.