SCRANTON, Pa. — President Barack Obama declared Friday that the United States had made "enormous strides" in race relations since the March on Washington 50 years ago, but he said "institutional barriers" for African-Americans and other minorities still existed and must be overcome.
Speaking at a town-hall-style meeting at Binghamton University in New York, Obama said that even though there was less overt discrimination in modern society, the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow continued to afflict many in America. He said the economic troubles of recent years had exacerbated divisions across racial and class lines.
"Fifty years after the March on Washington and the 'I Have a Dream' speech, obviously we've made enormous strides," Obama said in response to a question from a professor of African-American studies. "I'm a testament to it. You're a testament to it." He added that "we know that some discrimination still exists, although nothing like what existed 50 years ago."
"But," he added, "let's assume that we eliminated all discrimination magically with a wand, and everybody had goodness in their heart, you'd still have a situation in which there are a lot of folks who are poor, and whose families have become dysfunctional, because of a long legacy of poverty, and live in neighborhoods that are run-down and schools that are underfunded and don't have a strong property tax base."
His solution, he continued, was to promote programs like an expansion of early childhood education and his latest effort to make college more affordable — including, he said, making law school two years instead of three. Such policies, he said, "help lift everybody," and therefore "everybody will be better off."
The meeting at Binghamton came on the second day of a two-day bus trip through New York and Pennsylvania to promote Obama's proposals to make it easier for young Americans to afford a college education.