THE United States has a fresh opportunity to make significant progress toward cherished goals: equal justice and access to prosperity for all. A new administration in Washington, a new, post-cold war world order, even a new decade, contribute to this opportunity. The goals were eloquently stated by Martin Luther King Jr. The movement he led succeeded, largely, because Dr. King articulated the aspirations of black Americans through universal principles - drawn from the Bill of Rights and the Bible. His words rang true for all Americans.
They still do. But the work of reaching King's goal of a truly just society is far from over. A US Census report released this week notes the continued economic chasm between the races: 33 percent of blacks living in poverty, compared to 11 percent of whites; unemployment among blacks at 11.7 percent, contrasted to 4.7 percent for whites.
Equality of income isn't possible. And broad statistics mask the advances made by many blacks. Movement into the professions and positions of leadership has been remarkable - as black mayors, a black governor, a black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff attest. But millions remain mired in an economic backwater still fenced about by despair, racial hatred, and fear.
Can the country rally itself to tear those fences down? Some see just the opposite tendency in recent years: a move away from the government programs and legal doctrines designed to help minorities escape poverty. President Bush has committed himself, verbally, to a renewed assault on inequality and poverty. Will he take the lead, politically and legislatively, in launching that assault?
The National Urban League proposes a ``domestic Marshall Plan'' to train minority workers. Hopes for funding through a ``peace dividend'' may be over-optimistic. But no one doubts this is a time to reorder priorities, or that military spending will fall. The league argues, persuasively, that the country's economic future hinges on its ability to prepare its people - more and more of whom are black or brown - for productive lives.
A study of minority education in the US, also released this week, lists practical steps for improving the public schools so crucial to that work of preparation.
Continued progress toward the ideals voiced by King will benefit all Americans. This is not a matter of some groups getting special treatment. It's a matter of all individuals being given the help each would want in similar circumstances.