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Poll: 50 years after MLK, civil rights goals unmet

Jesse J. Holland and Emily Swanson, Associated Press | 3/31/2018, 6:36 a.m.
Fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., only 1 in 10 African Americans think the United States ...
In this Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 file photo, people look at the portrait of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. following a service celebrating King's birthday inside the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta. Fifty years after King's assassination, only 1 in 10 African Americans think the United States has achieved all or most of the goals of the civil rights movement he led. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

WASHINGTON — Fifty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., only 1 in 10 African Americans think the United States has achieved all or most of the goals of the civil rights movement he led, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Three-quarters of African Americans said there has been little or no progress on fair treatment by police, and more than half answered the same about fair coverage by the media, political representation or equal economic opportunities.

Currently, things are steadily "going on a quick downward spiral," said Stephanie Sutton, 42, a Silver Spring, Maryland, housewife who is black. "Inequality touches everything, from work, police, schools, education, income, houses."

Even when it comes to voting rights — the high point for perceived progress for all of Americans in the poll — just 34 percent of blacks said there has been a lot of progress made toward equality. Another 29 percent said there has been at least some progress.

"We're going backward to where we're starting to see more black males mostly getting assaulted by police officers unjustly and stuff like that," said Kyla Marshall, 28, of Lansing, Michigan, a state government worker who is black.

Americans overall were only slightly more optimistic. More than half said major progress has been made toward equal voting rights for African Americans, but just a quarter said there has been a lot of progress in achieving equal treatment by police or the criminal justice system. Among whites, 64 percent think there's been a lot of progress and another 25 percent think there's been minor progress on voting rights, while 28 percent think there's been a lot of progress and 31 percent partial progress toward equality in the criminal justice system.

The poll found that 30 percent of American adults — 35 percent of whites and just 8 percent of blacks — said all or most of the goals of the 1960s civil rights movement have been achieved. Most of the remainder said partial progress has been achieved.

"I think the civil rights movement was phenomenal in forcing banks, political systems and educational systems" to change, said Grant Jay Walters, 53, of Hamburg, New York, who is white. "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."

The poll was taken about six weeks ahead of the 50th anniversary of King's death.

King was shot and killed April 4, 1968, outside his second-?oor room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, by segregationist James Earl Ray. King has since been acknowledged as an American hero for his quest for freedom, justice, equality and peace among all races.

The poll found only one area — voting rights — where a majority said a lot of progress has been made for racial equality since the civil rights movement. In total, 57 percent of Americans said there has been major progress on equal voting rights, though just 39 percent said there has been major progress on political representation for African Americans.