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Martin Luther King Day: How far is America along road to the 'dream'?

Problems that disproportionately beset black Americans – poverty, broken families, prison time – have barely nudged during the Obama administration. But Martin Luther King Day is also an occasion to recognize progress for the black community.

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Thousands take part in an MLK Day march honoring Martin Luther King Jr., Jan. 21.

Eric Gay/AP

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President Obama began his second presidential term on Monday by laying his hand upon two Bibles: One was used by Abraham Lincoln, the other belonged to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the “traveling" Bible that the civil rights leader carried on marches.

Those two volumes are symbolic bookends to America’s past 150 years, especially when combined with Mr. Obama’s own achievement as the first African-American president of a former slave nation. But if Lincoln helped America correct its course by emancipating the slaves, it’s Dr. King’s “dream” of equal rights and a color-blind society that seems more fundamental today – Martin Luther King Day – as America's first black president begins another four years at the helm of the world’s most powerful republic.

To be sure, Obama has had to carry the burden of black America’s continuing problems, and his legacy may yet be tainted by the economic malaise that has idled nearly one-quarter of all able-bodied black workers – an unemployment rate twice that of white America. Other problems that disproportionately beset the African-American community – poverty, broken families, high incarceration rates – have also barely nudged under Obama. And in some political quarters, racial tensions have ticked up under Obama.

 
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