A new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research works to measures how far the country has come within 50 years of the death of Martin Luther King Jr. King, who died April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. The results show that black Americans are incredibly pessimistic about how much progress has been made.
The survey covered Americas' views on voting rights, the criminal justice system, segregation and police treatment. 75 percent of African Americans surveyed said there has been little to no progress.
Stephanie Sutton, 42, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, said things are "going on a quick downward spiral, and inequality touches everything, from work, police, schools, education, income, houses.”
Grant Jay Walters, 53, of Hamburg, New York, said the civil rights movement propelled America forward, but it can not alter the fact that racism is deeply ingrained in American life.
“I think the civil rights movement was phenomenal in forcing banks, political systems and educational systems to change," Walters said. “I think it absolutely achieved its goals. I do not think the civil rights movement can go in and change the hearts of men. There’s still a lot of racism in the communities and I’m not sure how you can ever make that go away.”
Overall, 57 percent of Americans said there has been progress on equal voting rights. On the flip side, only 39 percent said there has been progress on political representation for African Americans.
The report found that white Americans are more optimistic than black Americans about the current state of racism.
Tommy Romero, a 47-year-old white man from New Iberia, Louisiana, said black Americans are “claiming racism, but I don’t see it myself, and they’re claiming it, but it’s all about what they feel about the past, slavery and everything else. That’s how I feel.”
Romero said compared to the past racism has gotten a lot better.
“Things were terrible back then,” Romero said. “The way minorities were treated, drinking at separate fountains, eating at separate restaurants, and sitting on certain parts of the bus, stuff like that, police beating on them, that just made no sense.”
On the political side of things, the study's authors found a deep divide in how Democrats and Republicans view civil rights. 54 percent of Republicans and 14 percent of Democrats said nearly all the goals of the civil rights movement have been accomplished.
Overall, however, more than half of Americans believe African Americans still face disadvantages in upward mobility.