Economic segregation, especially in the South, but truly nationwide, was as prevalent as ever even after the Civil Rights Movement, and some would say, today as well. Blacks had been held to subservient economic positions as sharecroppers and servants in the South from the time right after the Civil War well into the 20th century. Education was sorely unequal in black and white segregated schools, and urban poverty in the northern cities among the black population was widespread and very difficult to escape.
Let's face it. African Americans still faced poverty in 1968 because: 1)the laws were new and really hadn't become effective yet. But also:2) the laws were not adequately enforced. The laws sounded good, and it made politicians look good if they'd supported the laws, but there weren't many who were willing to ensure the laws were adequately enforced.
While many students will write paragraphs or in their journals that getting an education is important and a means of attaining a worthwhile livelihood, they do not understand or even desire, at times, to open new avenues of thinking in their minds. That is, they often do not understand that getting an education is not just earning a diploma, but it is also learning how to learn, learning to think, and learning to do. In other words, there is a gap in their comprehension of what is involved in truly earning a degree. Or, they simply are not motivated enough to learn. Instead, they have a "fast-food" mentality, much as Martin Luther King described, or a fatalistic one. Or, they are simply unmotivated.
One thing that really got my attention years ago when I was reading Taylor Branch's masterpiece Parting the Waters: America During the King Years, was King's concern about what he perceived as a growing interest among blacks in instant gratification. Even while he was doing his important civil rights work, he was concerned about people he saw who were more interested in spending money immediately on things that were noticeable, rather than spending and saving for what he believed to be the most important expenditure of all, education. He knew that the only permanent way out of poverty for the majority of people, blacks and whites alike, was education, and education is not something easily obtained. Black families who had been ensconced in institutional poverty for generations (then and now) were unable, unwilling, or unlikely to see education as something worth waiting for.
This is a question that we really don't know the answer to. People of different political ideologies tend to have very different answers to this question. Here are two possible answers, the first liberal, the second conservative:
- Discrimination. Remember that, in 1968, discrimination in employment and such had only been outlawed 4 years previous. Segregation in schools had only officially been outlawed 14 years before. These changes would not have had time to work by 1968. Therefore, you could argue that blacks faced poverty because of the impact of past discrimination and injustice, going all the way back to slavery.
- A "culture of poverty." There is a school of thought that says that the poor remain poor because their culture prompts them to act in ways that are destructive. This is sort of what we see in the Gwendolyn Brooks poem "We Real Cool" where the speaker talks about how the cool people don't go to school, among other things. Conservatives argue that poor people (blacks among them) make these short-sighted decisions because their culture encourages them to do so. In this point of view, the poverty persisted to 1968 because of a culture among some blacks that encouraged behaviors that caused people to remain poor.