ATLANTA — Americans are no more convinced than before Barack Obama was elected as the first black president that the country is closer to achieving Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream of racial equality, a poll shows.
Seventy-seven percent of people interviewed in an AP-GfK poll say there has been significant progress toward King's dream, about the same as the 75 percent who felt that way in 2006, before Obama was elected. Just over one in five, 22 percent, say they feel there has been "no significant progress" toward that dream.
"The exuberance and thrill of seeing an African American elected to the presidency has been tempered by the outrageous claims that we've heard about him," said William Jelani Cobb, a history professor at Rutgers University.
Real concerns that King fought for remain, even with a black president, he said.
"And the violent rhetoric we've seen directed towards (Obama) diminishes the initial sentiment that we've made great progress because of the election," he said.
The poll also reveals that more people plan to celebrate Monday's federal holiday honoring King — 30 percent, compared to 23 percent who had such plans five years ago. That includes 46 percent of non-whites, 38 percent of college graduates, 36 percent who live in urban areas and 36 percent who attend religious services at least weekly, according to the poll.
Some communities in the South, including around Atlanta, where schools have been closed because of a snow and ice storm, have decided to make up one of the days on MLK Day, upsetting some African-American groups.
In 1994, Congress added community service as a focus of the federal holiday, which marks its 25th anniversary this year. More than one million Americans are expected to participate in 13,000 projects around the country on the King Day of Service, said Patrick Corvington, head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency charged with administering service projects on the King holiday.
"The focus on service has allowed for a different kind of conversation about Dr. King and what he was about," Corvington said. "It allows all people to connect with Dr. King in different ways."
The new poll also shows most of the nation in support of the King holiday. Three-quarters of those surveyed this year say King's birthday should be so honored, with 84 percent of non-white respondents believing so, compared to 68 percent of white respondents. Younger adults are also more apt to feel the birthday deserves the honor, as 81 percent among those under 50 years old supported the holiday, compared to 66 percent among those 50 to 64 and 62 percent among seniors.
The civil rights icon, who would have turned 82 on Saturday, is the only American who was not a U.S. president honored with a federal holiday.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted January 5-10, 2010 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.
Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
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