Disagreements on racial progress


(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Last week was the anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was murdered by a single bullet fired in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

The civil rights leader was the foremost figure in the cause of social justice in a country that had been plagued by the oppression of African Americans since the days of their slavery here. King led the African-American civil rights movement and brought it to the forefront of the public consciousness, emphasizing the importance of non-violent protest and resistance.

Did King’s campaign for the causes he championed make a difference? A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed 78 percent of all respondents agreed that at least some of the goals of the 1960s civil rights movement have been achieved.

The poll was conducted in February and surveyed 1,337 adults with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.9 percent.

While 30 percent of all respondents and 35 percent of white respondents said all or most of Dr. King’s goals had been achieved, only 8 percent of blacks agreed.

Has our country continued to improve in the areas King worked so hard to change? That question seems to be subject to some serious debate, according to the AP-NORC poll. And the differences of opinion in the survey highlight the differences in perspective between blacks and whites.

Some of the poll’s questions addressed progress in achieving equal treatment for African Americans in the U.S. in the last 50 years. While whites saw a great deal or a lot of progress in blacks’ access to jobs, for example (43 percent), only 13 percent of blacks felt that way.

Thirty-nine percent of blacks answered that they think there has been little or no progress in reducing segregation in public life, while just 15 percent of whites feel that way (55 percent of whites think there has been a great deal or a lot of progress in that area, while only 24 percent of blacks agreed).

Are blacks receiving fair treatment by the police? A significant number of whites say there has been little or no progress (39 percent). But more significantly, 73 percent of blacks feel that way.

What strikes us most about the survey’s results is that problems such as segregation and treatment by law enforcement seemed much better in the eyes of white America. But things are not so bright in the African-American perspective.

We need to be careful that the real problems faced by black Americans in this country are not evaluated through purely white-colored glasses. Whites must join with blacks to ask, “What would Martin Luther King Jr. do?”

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.

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