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On 50th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act, Majority of Americans Believe Racial Progress Has Been Made


Today is the 50th anniversary of the day President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation promising to establish individual equality of opportunity under the law for all Americans – known as the Civil Rights Act.

While the impetus for the law came from the brutal images of Southern racism and segregation laid bare by the brave warriors of the Civil Rights Movement, a majority of Blacks and whites across the nation now believe the nation has made real progress in getting rid of racial discrimination, according to a CBS News poll.

But most poll respondents say at least some discrimination still exists today—though African-Americans are more likely than whites to see widespread discrimination.

Paul Moreno, writing in the conservative-leaning Wall Street Journal, says this of the Civil Rights Act: “The ink was hardly dry on the new law before it became an instrument for racial classifications and preferences that the bill’s sponsors swore would be prohibited. This was largely the work of legal academics, bureaucrats and judges. Officials elected by and accountable to the public hardly ever consented to what has come to be called affirmative action.”

This point of view is reflected in the CBS poll, which revealed that most whites (63 percent) think both Blacks and whites have an equal chance to get ahead in today’s society. That thinking is not endorsed by a majority of African-Americans—just 46 percent of them share that view. However, 46 percent of Blacks say white Americans have a better chance to get ahead in today’s society than Black Americans, while another 46 percent say they have an equal chance.

An overwhelming majority of Americans—nearly eight in 10—think there’s been real progress since the 1960s in getting rid of racial discrimination. That’s a 30 percent increase since 1992. But whites (82 percent) are more likely than African-Americans (59 percent) to think real progress has been made—more than a third of African-Americans say there hasn’t been real progress.

Most Americans (66 percent) say there “a lot” or “some” discrimination against Blacks in society today, but Blacks are far more likely than whites to say there is “a lot”—41 percent compared to 14 percent.

The poll of 1,009 adults across the nation was conducted by telephone on June 18-22.

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