Selma: A snapshot of changing racial attitudes in America

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Selma
Stevie Wonder Happy Birthday single

CHANGING RACIAL ATTITUDES: What were some of the watershed events between Selma and today? Prior to political scientist Sheldon Appleton’s report in 1995, the U.S. had declared a national holiday honoring Dr. King thanks in part to Stevie Wonder’s song, “Happy Birthday,” and America’s largest petition drive on a single issue, according to the Nation magazine. Even hold-out regions were honoring King by 1995. After losing a Super Bowl because of its refusal to celebrate King’s day, Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992.

The Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965 were watershed events in the civil rights movement. What were attitudes about racial discrimination between then and now?

We’ve got one snapshot from the mid 1990s, thanks to political scientist Sheldon Appleton who reported findings in 1995 from several national surveys. In 1993, large majorities of black and white Americans agreed that Martin Luther King, Jr. made things better for blacks in America. Large majorities also agreed that King was “just about right in his efforts to gain equal rights for blacks.”

However, black and white Americans disagreed strongly on a number of issues. Only 21% of whites said that racial discrimination was the reason why blacks had worse housing, jobs, and income compared to whites. About 44% of blacks attributed these inequalities to discrimination.

Even bigger differences appeared when evaluating the extent of racial discrimination against blacks in general. Less than one-third of whites (31%) said racial discrimination against blacks was a serious problem where they lived. Two-thirds of blacks (67%) said racial discrimination against blacks was a serious problem.

Would you join a peaceful parade, march, or picketing that favored equal rights for blacks? One-third of whites (36%) and two-thirds of blacks (68%) said yes in 1993.

Are you surprised by these findings?
What racial milestones do you think were influential in the mid 1990s?

How do attitudes in 1993 compare to attitudes now?

Share this series with friends …

OurValues is designed to spark spirited, civil discussion. You’re free to print out these columns and use them in a class or small group. Or, simply talk about this on Facebook or Twitter.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Series Navigation<< Selma: Did King die for his values? What about Lincoln?Selma: Are you optimistic about race relations? >>