As the nation's capitol prepares to host thousands for the dedication of a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr., a new USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows that most Americans agree that civil rights have improved over the course of their lifetimes.
"We have a long way to go, but I do think that we are changing," says Nancy Huizing, 70, a retired machinist from Grand Rapids, Mich., who is white and was among those polled. She sees much greater racial and ethnic diversity in her neighborhood, a fact reflected even in the variety of foods available in the supermarket.
The poll also revealed that a similar proportion of Blacks and whites approve of interracial marriage, widening a large gap that once divided the country. 83% of whites and 96% of Blacks responded that they approve of interracial marriage; a change from 1968, where only 17% of whites and 56% of Blacks approved.
Although there is a general consensus of overall improvement in the area of race relations, the poll numbers showed that there are still large differences in the way Blacks and whites view the current status of race relations in the country.
"All the segregation is gone," says Cody Czajka, 21, an Air Force medic from Moyock, N.C., who is white. In the military, he says, race "is not allowed to matter."
According to the poll, African-Americans feel that race is a problem despite the disappearance of segregation. 52% of Blacks say that new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination.
"Racism to a certain degree is still there, especially in the court systems," George Evans, 56, a house painter from Sanford, Fla., told USA TODAY. "Some of it is more subtle than it used to be. Some of it is flat-out aggressive."
Overall, the poll found that African-Americans are less optimistic about the future of race relations than was reported in the past, while white America’s outlook has remained the same since the '60s. In 1963, only 26% of African-Americans felt that race relations would always be a problem, now, 55% of Blacks see no end to the country’s race issues.
Opinions between whites and Blacks also differed in the area of employment opportunity, with 78% of whites responding that Blacks have an equal chance to get any job they are qualified for, while 59% of Blacks responded that employment discrimination is still an issue.
The poll of 1,319 adults was taken Aug. 4–7 and has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.
(Photo: Birmingham News /Landov)