As the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, Pew Research Center asked Americans about their views on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, the country’s progress on racial equality, and what they think needs to change in order to achieve racial equality.
Most Americans (81%) say King has had a positive impact on the country, with 47% saying he had a very positive impact. Fewer (38%) say their own views on racial equality have been influenced by King’s legacy a great deal or a fair amount.
About half of Americans (52%) say there has been a great deal or fair amount of progress on racial equality in the last 60 years. A third say there’s been some progress and 15% say there has been not much or no progress at all.
The survey findings often differ by race, ethnicity and partisanship – and in some cases also by age and education.
For example, 59% of Black adults say their personal views on racial equality have been influenced by King a great deal or a fair amount, compared with 38% of Hispanic adults, 34% of White adults and 34% of Asian adults. And while 58% of White Americans say there has been a great deal or fair amount of progress on racial equality in the last 60 years, smaller shares of Asian (47%), Hispanic (45%) and Black (30%) Americans say the same. Republicans and those who lean Republican (67%) are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (38%) to say there has been a great deal or a fair amount of progress on racial equality.
Additional key findings from the survey of 5,073 U.S. adults, conducted April 10-16, 2023, on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel:
60% of Americans say they have heard or read a great deal or a fair amount about King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Black adults are the most likely to say this, at 80%, compared with 60% of White adults, 49% of Hispanic adults and 41% of Asian adults. Adults ages 65 and older and those with at least a bachelor’s degree are more likely than younger adults and those with less education to be highly familiar with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
More Americans (52%) say efforts to ensure equality for all, regardless of race or ethnicity, haven’t gone far enough than say they have gone too far (20%) or been about right (27%). About eight-in-ten Black adults (83%) say efforts to ensure racial equality haven’t gone far enough, which is larger than the shares of Hispanic (58%), Asian (55%) and White (44%) adults who say the same. Most Democrats (78%) say these efforts haven’t gone far enough, compared with 24% of Republicans. Some 37% of Republicans say these efforts have gone too far.
A majority (58%) of those who say efforts to ensure equality haven’t gone far enough think it’s unlikely that there will be racial equality in their lifetime. Those who say efforts have been about right are more optimistic: Within this group, 39% say racial equality is extremely or very likely in their lifetime, while 36% say it is somewhat likely and 24% say it’s not too or not at all likely.
Many people who say efforts to ensure racial equality haven’t gone far enough say several systems need to be completely rebuilt to ensure equality. The prison system is at the top of the list, with 44% in this group saying it needs to be completely rebuilt. More than a third say the same about policing (38%) and the political system (37%). Black Americans, Democrats and adults younger than 30 who say efforts to ensure racial equality haven’t gone far enough are among the most likely to say several systems, ranging from the economic system to the prison system, need to be completely rebuilt to ensure equality.
70% of Americans say marches and demonstrations that don’t disrupt everyday life are always or often acceptable ways to protest racial inequality. And 59% say the same about boycotts. Fewer than half (39%) see sit-ins as an acceptable form of protest. Much smaller shares say activities that disrupt everyday life – such as shutting down streets or traffic (13%) and actions that result in damage to public or private property (5%) – are acceptable.