As civil rights activists gather in Washington, D.C. for the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, a new Pew Research poll shows his dream remains an elusive one for the majority of Americans.
In the Pew survey, just 45% of Americans said the nation has made substantial progress toward racial equality in the 50 years since Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Almost half of Americans, 49%, said “that a lot more needed to be done.”
Black Americans polled were more pessimistic about the pace of progress towards a color-blind society than white Americans. Blacks were also more likely to say they were treated less fairly by the police, the courts, public schools, and other community institutions.
Americans did see progress in key issues like high school graduation, life expectancy, and voter turnout. The poll, however, also pointed to a decrease in median income, homeownership, and birth and marriage rates among blacks since Dr. King’s speech.
Perhaps the most surprising finding is an overwhelming majority of blacks said they were worse off today than 5 years ago, before the nation elected its first black President. Many civil rights leaders hoped that the election of Barrack Obama would signal the fulfillment of Dr. King’s dream of a post-racial nation. Just months after President Obama was reelected, just 26% of black Americans say they are better off today than before he took office.
The poll is clear evidence that self-proclaimed civil rights leaders have done little to move Dr. King’s dream forward. The black community must look inside itself and decide if it wants to stay on the same path as the last 50 years.