Digital History

America in Ferment: The Tumultuous 1960s

The Struggle Continues Previous Next
Digital History ID 3335



Over the past quarter century, black Americans have made impressive social and economic gains, yet full equality remains an unrealized dream. State-sanctioned segregation in restaurants, hotels, courtrooms, libraries, drinking fountains, and public washrooms was eliminated, and many barriers to equal opportunity were shattered. In political representation, educational attainment, and representation in white collar and professional occupations, African Americans have made striking gains. Between 1960 and 1993, the number of black officeholders swelled from just 300 to nearly 7,984, and the proportion of blacks in professional positions quadrupled. Black mayors have governed many of the nation's largest cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.

Respect for black culture has also grown. The number of black performers on television and in film has grown, though most still appear in comedies or crime stories. Today, the most popular television performers (Bill Cosby and Oprah), the most popular movie star (Eddie Murphy), and many of the most popular musicians and sports stars are black.

Nevertheless, millions of black Americans still do not share fully in the promise of American life. The proportion of lawyers who are black doubled between 1960 and 1990, but it has only gone from 1.3 percent to 3.2 percent. The percentage of physicians who are African American has dropped, from 4.4 percent to 3 percent.

According to census figures, blacks still suffer twice the unemployment rate of whites and earn only about half as much. The poverty rate among black families is three times that of whites--the same ratio as in the 1950s. Black households earn only about $63 for every $100 a white household earns. Forty percent of black children are raised in fatherless homes, and almost half of all black children are born into families earning less than the poverty level.

Separation of the races in housing and schooling remains widespread. Nationally, less than a quarter of all black Americans live in integrated neighborhoods, and only about 38 percent of black children attend racially integrated schools. And despite great gains in black political clout, blacks still do not hold political offices in proportion to their share of the population. In 1990, there were only 400 black legislators (state and federal), compared with 7,335 white legislators; and altogether, blacks still make up less than two percent of the nation's officeholders.

Although the United States has eliminated many obstacles to black progress, reformers maintain that much remains to be done before the country attains Martin Luther King's dream of a nation where "all of God's children, black man and white man, Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, `Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, I'm Free at Last.’"

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