The View From MLK Street


Jonathan Tilove
, the Newhouse news service
journalist whose coverage of  race and immigration many
consider the best and fairest in Big Media, has teamed
up with photographer Michael Falco to create a small
coffee-table book called

Along Martin Luther King: Travels on Black America`s
Main Street
.
The two (white) men visited a
sizable fraction of the 650 streets

named after Dr. King
—and returned with a valuable
impressionistic portrait of the blackest streets in
black America.

A dozen years ago, during the worst
of the
decade-long murder spree
kicked off by the
introduction of crack cocaine in the mid-1980s,
undertaking this project would have been

slightly nuts
for a man like Tilove who has a wife
and kids. He

notes
:

"The
comedian Chris Rock famously advised, `If a friend calls
you on the telephone and says they`re lost on Martin
Luther King Boulevard and they want to know what they
should do, the best response is `Run!`”

Fortunately, the black murder

rate
has fallen by about 50 percent since its peak
in 1991-1993. Tilove and Falco`s odyssey has become
reasonably prudent. It`s a trip well worth sharing with
them.

Veteran actor

Ossie Davis
provides a wry theme for the book:

"I don`t
know what God intended by making us so gifted on the one
hand and so impecunious on the other. I`m sure He`s got
something in mind which He`ll explain to us later."

Tilove runs into some memorable
characters, such as the

Rev. J. Richard Harris
of St. John First Missionary
Baptist Church in the impoverished town of Belle Glade,
Florida. This was

once home
to the near-great black novelist

Zora Neale Hurston
(whose collected works I

reviewed
for National Review in 1995). Her
first novel

Jacob`s Gourd Vine
portrayed a morally flawed
preacher. But not even Zora could have dreamt up the
Rev. Harris.

The Reverend is a convicted felon
who did time for traveler`s check fraud in the 1970s,
pleaded no contest to failing to return a rental car in
1996, and claims to have firebombed white-owned
businesses in the 1960s.

Yet, Tilove says,

"Harris
has a remarkable talent, a gift, for which there is no
precise word in the English language. Through a
combination of charisma, chutzpah, cunning, and cool, he
has a knack for being where it`s at and looking as if
that is right where he belongs."

For example, in 2000 his humble
congregation was astonished to view him on the global
Super Bowl broadcast consoling the losing coach.

Reason: Harris`

Belle Glade
is a town of 15,000 that has sent
roughly one football player to the NFL every year since
1985, a rate about 100 times the national average.

Leveraging this local natural
resource, the Rev. Harris now specializes in ministering
to the spiritual needs of NFL players, most famously
Baltimore Ravens superstar Ray Lewis during that
linebacker`s

murder trial
. One pro player recently gave the Rev.
Harris a Lexus. Another gave him a Rolex.

His duties counseling rich young
men don`t preclude this man of God from pursuing a love
affair with the camera that makes

Paris Hilton
look like

J.D. Salinger
. Tilove notes that Harris was
subsequently seen introducing Jesse Jackson at a protest
rally during the 2000 Florida recount brouhaha;
lecturing the United Nations Commission on Human Rights
in Geneva, Switzerland; and dancing with former Attorney
General Janet Reno in a New York Times photograph
of her bizarre "Janet
Reno Dance Party
"

fundraiser
that was inspired by Will Ferrell`s
Saturday Night Live


sketch
.

Tilove uses the various Martin
Luther King streets to illustrate some important themes
in modern African-American life. In liberal (and thus
ultra-expensive)

Portland
, Oregon, MLK has become so safe that white
20-somethings are beginning to bid up housing prices and
drive blacks out of town. Harlem`s Martin Luther King
Boulevard (better known to its residents as 125th
Street) serves to depict the collision between

major chain stores
, recently drawn to black
neighborhoods by the decline in crime, and the
idiosyncratic but inefficient local shopkeepers.

Tilove notes:

"The two
questions most frequently asked by white people about
our journey along MLK are: "Are there any that are not
just in black neighborhoods?" and "Are there any nice
ones?"

It`s unfortunate Tilove didn`t
visit Los Angeles` MLK, because it provides answers to
both questions.

The eastern stretch of MLK is now
80 percent Latino according to the

Census
. LA`s black community is increasingly

squeezed
between an irresistible force—the endless
tide of Hispanics pushing in from the east—and an
immovable object—the wealthy white beach suburbs to the
west. A fair number of African-Americans are

leaving California
, with

Atlanta
a destination of choice for middle class
blacks looking for a heavily black metropolitan area
with relatively few immigrants.

The western end of Los Angeles`s
MLK, in contrast, is indeed a quite “nice” middle
to upper middle class black

neighborhood
of well-maintained homes and verdant
gardens.

More unusually for a black
district, it also enjoys decent

shopping
, some of it built by basketball legend

Magic Johnson
. He`s made a lot of money in recent
years providing upscale national outlets such as
Starbucks to affluent blacks who prefer spending their
leisure time among other blacks rather than putting up
with the

irritations of integration
.

Tilove seems suspicious of this
trend toward national chains opening in black areas. He
profiles

Sikhulu Shange
, a Zulu from

South Africa
, who has owned the tiny Record Shack in
Harlem for 22 years, but now faces fierce competition
from the massive new

HMV
music store across the street. Portending even
higher rents in the future,

Bill Clinton
moved into an office down the street:

"`I am
finally home," says the former president, who, more pink
than white, now finds himself the most famous person on
the most famous black street in the world. At the Record
Shack, Shange can only shake his head. "The jig is up,"
he says."

But the big chains are latecomers
to the process of crowding out black

shopkeepers
. They were pushed aside years ago by
immigrants from patriarchal cultures, such as

Greece
or

Korea
, where the senior male can compel his entire
extended family to toil diligently in the clan`s store
or restaurant.

African-Americans, by comparison,
tend to lack the kin solidarity needed to prosper in
small business. Big corporations with carefully worked
out procedures offer ambitious individual blacks a surer
road up the ladder.

Surprisingly, the weakness of Tilove`s book is that
it focuses on black-white relations in a 1960ish sort of
way, almost completely skipping over the impact of
immigration. [VDARE.COM
NOTE:
Of which he is certainly aware. Se
e
his articles on


Lewiston
.

white flight
,

September 11,


immigration reformers
,
and the GOP`s suicidal


Hispanic strategy
.]

Yet the future of the MLKs of inner
city America will largely be hammered out between

blacks and immigrant minorities
—as will the future
of the African-Americans themselves.


[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and


movie critic
for


The American Conservative
.
His website


www.iSteve.blogspot.com
features his daily
blog.]