PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are about equally divided on whether Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of U.S. racial equality has been realized, with 51% saying it has and 49% saying it has not. Blacks (54%) are slightly more optimistic than whites (49%) that the dream has been realized.
Americans who believe the dream has not been realized are about as likely to say the U.S. has made major progress toward attaining it as to say it has made minor progress or none at all. Thus, although a bare majority believe the dream has been realized, a total of 74% of Americans believe either that it has been realized or that major progress has been made.
The poll finds Americans have very positive views of King. Ninety-four percent rate him positively on a scale ranging from +5 (very favorable) to -5 (very unfavorable), including 69% giving him a +4 or +5 rating.
Gallup asked the same question several times in the 1960s, and the current numbers represent a dramatic shift in the way Americans view King now compared with the past. His prior ratings were at best slightly more positive than negative, and in a 1966 measurement, Americans were nearly twice as likely to have a negative (63%) as positive (33%) opinion of him. That negative evaluation was likely the result of his public opposition to the Vietnam War at a time when Americans still favored it as well as the opposition of some to the continued push for expanded civil rights and economic legislation to assist blacks.
In the current poll, 65% of whites and 95% of Blacks give King a +4 or +5 favorable rating.
Given the high regard Americans currently have for Dr. King, it is not surprising that 91% approve of having a national memorial to him. Blacks are essentially unanimous in their approval at 99%, while whites' support is a bit lower but still high at 89%.
Seventy percent of Americans say they are at least somewhat interested in visiting the memorial, including 28% who are very interested. Interest is much higher among blacks, with 94% saying they are interested, including 68% who are very interested.
King's legacy as the paramount figure in the civil rights movement is being recognized in the establishment of a national monument in his honor. His most important legacy, though, may be improvements in Black-White relations and steps toward greater racial equality in the United States. Americans clearly see progress in this regard: 89% say Black civil rights have improved over the course of their lifetime. Still, Americans believe there is work to be done, as nearly half are still not convinced that King's goal of true racial equality has been met.