How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (2023)

Exactly 50 years after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., America is still far from his dream.

Across measures ranging from criminal justice issues to economic well-being, black Americans still lag far behind white Americans. In some cases, there has been progress since the civil rights era and King’s death. But the situation has actually gotten worse for many black people.

There are myriad reasons for this. Outright racism. Policies that don’t adequately address past and current systemic obstacles for black people, particularly segregation. Policies that make such problems worse — like restrictive covenants, redlining, blockbusting, and steering. And a total lack of attention to key issues, such as the criminal justice system’s neglect of huge racial disparities in just about everything it does, from policing to incarceration.

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (1) Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Whatever the cause, the result is seen in the numbers below: From earnings to getting a college education to incarceration, black Americans generally do worse than their white peers. For all the hope that King professed, America is still a land of racial inequality.

1) Black Americans make much less money than their white peers

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (2)

It’s not just that black people generally make less money than their white counterparts; it’s that the wage gap between black and white workers has widened steadily since the late 1970s.

A recent study on race and economic mobility found that black men in particular see much less mobility than their white counterparts, even after controlling for hours worked, employment rates, family structure, and a host of other variables. That could help explain how black workers remain so far behind.

2) Black people are still unemployed at nearly twice the rates as white people

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (3)

How bad is the job market? The numbers suggest that can depend on your race. Historically, unemployment rates have been around twice as bad for black people as their white counterparts.

Racism likely plays a big role in that: Studies have found that when all else is held equal in job applications but the name of the applicant is changed to be stereotypically black as opposed to stereotypically white, the stereotypical white names “were 50 percent more likely to elicit positive responses from employers” — and some research suggests these kinds of disparities have gone unchanged since at least the late ’80s.

3) White family wealth is nearly seven times greater than black family wealth

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (4)

Given the numbers above, this statistic should be unsurprising: White families hold much more wealth than their black peers. As the Urban Institute noted, this is largely a result of the earnings gap — people accumulate less wealth over their lives if they’re making less money on a yearly basis.

(Video) Martin Luther King III and daughter speak about preserving MLK's legacy

4) Black people are more than twice as likely to live in poverty

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (5)

The good news is that black poverty rates have declined over the past few years. The bad news is there are still massive racial disparities in who remains poor.

5) Black kids are more likely to grow up in poor neighborhoods than they were decades ago

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (6) Alvin Chang/Vox

One of the key components to this story is neighborhoods. As Dylan Matthews wrote for Vox, studies have “found that federal subsidies designed to move poor families out of disadvantaged areas can substantially increase income for poor children when they grow up.”

But, largely due to the persistence of residential segregation, black kids are still much more likely to grow up in a neighborhood with medium or high levels of poverty than their white peers. And in fact, black (and white) kids are actually more likely to live in a high- or medium-poverty neighborhood than they were during the civil rights era — a sign that even as poverty has generally declined, geographic concentrations of poverty have gone up.

6) School segregation remains fairly common

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (7)

One of the great victories of the civil rights era was the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that deemed racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Yet, as Alvin Chang wrote for Vox, racial segregation in schools has remained stubbornly high — in large part because residential segregation has kept black kids stranded in neighborhoods with mostly black schools and white kids in neighborhoods with mostly white schools.

And while local policy reforms could alleviate the problem, white parents in particular are often resistant to ideas that can spur more integration — fearing that it will make their schools worse.

7) Black-white high school completion gaps have narrowed

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (8)

Here’s some good news: The gap between black and white completion rates of high school has nearly closed since the 1960s. White Americans are still a little more likely to graduate, but the gap is nowhere as big as it was in the past.

8) The college education gap, however, remains huge

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (9)

While black and white college graduation rates have increased over the years, white people are still more than 50 percent more likely to obtain a college degree.

9) Black voter turnout has generally trended up for the past couple of decades

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (10)

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a tremendous victory for the civil rights movement, notably increasing voter registration and turnout in the South in the years following its passage. In the decades since, black voter turnout has fluctuated from presidential election to presidential election, but it’s generally trended up — and when President Barack Obama was on the ballot, black voter turnout even surpassed white voter turnout.

That doesn’t mean everything is perfect; a 2013 Supreme Court decision weakened the Voting Rights Act, and in the years since, states have more aggressively tried to restrict access to the voting booth in ways that could disproportionately hurt black voters, from strict voter ID laws to cuts in early voting.

(Video) An Hour With Martin Luther King Jr. | David Susskind Meets MLK | Timeline

10) Incarceration rates have grown a lot — and black people have suffered the most as a result

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (11)

Responding to waves of crime in the 1960s through the early 1990s, lawmakers around the country passed laws that increased prison sentences and pushed for more incarceration to combat crime. Studies suggest this had only a small effect on crime rates. But it had an enormous effect on black people — who are disproportionately likely to be locked up.

A 2015 review of the research by the Sentencing Project concluded that only 61 to 80 percent of the disparity could be explained by higher crime rates in black communities — meaning as much as 39 percent is attributable to other factors, including, potentially, racial bias or past criminal records influencing a prison sentence.

The result was documented in a 2015 New York Times analysis, which found that there are, in effect, “1.5 million missing black men” in America who could be fathers or workers in their communities but instead are behind bars.

11) Black people are more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (12)

There’s no good historical data on this, but we do know that, as it stands today, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by the police than white people. Studies have suggested that socioeconomic factors and crime rates don’t fully explain the gap — and that racial bias may be a factor, based on research that shows that police officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations.

These disparities are one of the issues at the front and center for modern civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter. King, for his part, would have likely appreciated the continuation of these movements: As he said during his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (13) CBS via Getty Images

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How America has — and hasn’t — changed since Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, in 11 charts (14)

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How did MLK's death changed America? ›

King's death energized the Black Power Movement. Black Americans felt even more distrustful of white institutions and America's political system. Membership in the Black Panther Party and other Black Power groups surged. Local organizations grew into national networks.

What happened after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr? ›

As word spread of King's death, protests started nationwide that included outbreaks of violence, resulting in more than 40 deaths. President Lyndon Johnson ordered a national day of mourning on April 7. Two days later, King's funeral in Atlanta had more than 100,000 mourners.

How did the I Have a Dream Speech impact society? ›

King's “Dream” speech would play an important role in helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and the pivotal Selma to Montgomery march that he led in 1965 would provide momentum for the passage later that year of the Voting Rights Act.

What did Martin Luther King, Jr want to change in America? ›

King sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.

How did Martin Luther King, Jr's death affect the civil rights movement quizlet? ›

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death affect the civil rights movement? The civil rights movement began to lose the unity and direction that King had given it.

Why was MLK's death a turning point in the civil rights movement? ›

MLK's death and the civil rights movement would lead to the desegregation of schools and more equality. The Vietnam War and the Tet Offensive led Americans to distrust the government, gave them a reason to use their freedom of speech and protest, and led to the change in Americas military strategy.

When did the Civil Rights Movement end? ›

Is Martin Luther King's speech still relevant today? ›

A large majority of Americans say King succeeded in advancing civil rights and remains relevant today. Three-quarters of Americans (74%) say the “I Have a Dream" speech given by King in 1963 is relevant today to people of their generation, including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

Is Dr King's speech still relevant today? ›

His legacy is still relevant, as we continue to see an uprise in Police Brutality against people of color, we also see a shift in cultures coming together to stand in righteousness for the equal justice. We are coming closer in standing together for equal rights for all. This old saying is still relevant today.

How did MLK impact the civil rights movement? ›

In 1963 King helped organize the March on Washington, an assembly of more than 200,000 people at which he made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The march influenced the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and King was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize for Peace.

Why is MLK important to America? ›

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., is a civil rights legend. In the mid-1950s, King led the movement to end segregation and counter prejudice in the United States through the means of peaceful protest. His speeches—some of the most iconic of the 20th century—had a profound effect on the national consciousness.

What did Martin Luther King say about America? ›

King returned often to a central tenet of his work: holding America and its people to the promise of “the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to all men, a promise made by the Founders against the backdrop of the practice of slavery and the displacement of Native peoples.

What is the other America about by Martin Luther King? ›

Dr. King first gave his “Other America” speech at Stanford University in 1967 and addressed topics surrounding race, poverty and economic injustices that were, and still are, plaguing American society. In Dr. King's speech he begins by painting the picture of the two Americas that exist in American society.

What challenges did Martin Luther King Jr face in his struggle for civil rights? ›

King faced many obstacles while on his mission for equality. He was arrested over twenty times for protesting. He was the object of several violent attacks, both to his person and his property. He received threatening phone calls, his home was bombed and set afire, and he was even stabbed.

What impact did MLK Jr's I Have a Dream Speech have on the civil rights movement? ›

Popularly known as the "I have a Dream" speech, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced the Federal government to take more direct actions to more fully realize racial equality.

What strategies were used in the civil rights movement? ›

Resistance to racial segregation and discrimination with strategies such as civil disobedience, nonviolent resistance, marches, protests, boycotts, “freedom rides,” and rallies received national attention as newspaper, radio, and television reporters and cameramen documented the struggle to end racial inequality.

What was the turning point in civil rights movement? ›

On March 7, 1965, when then-25-year-old activist John Lewis led over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and faced brutal attacks by oncoming state troopers, footage of the violence collectively shocked the nation and galvanized the fight against racial injustice.

What stopped the civil rights movement? ›

However, both the movement and its opposition did not effectively adjust to federally imposed desegregation under the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Their simultaneous dis- integration in 1 973 effectively ended the civil rights movement era.

How does the Civil Rights Act of 1964 affect us today? ›

The Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and the desegregation of schools. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the nation's benchmark civil rights legislation, and it continues to resonate in America.

Why did the civil rights movement decline? ›

Continued segregation, inner city riots, protests of the Vietnam War, and the broken promises of Johnson's Great Society all came to a head in 1968 when the CRM's unofficial leader died.

Why Martin Luther King's speech was so effective? ›

King's firm belief in racial equality, civil rights and justice for all was part of what made his speech so powerful. Because he believed in the power of his cause and the beauty of a better future, the crowd of over 250,000 did as well. Without conviction, any change you're trying to accomplish will likely fall flat.

What is King's main message in the speech? ›

Martin Luther King Jr.'s “Dream” speech was a call for equality. It identified the faults of America and what measures were needed to make it a better place. A central theme throughout the speech was the importance of everyone being treated equally.

What are the main points of the I Have a Dream speech? ›

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, minister and civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. outlines the long history of racial injustice in America and encourages his audience to hold their country accountable to its own founding promises of freedom, justice, and equality.

Why is Martin Luther still relevant today? ›

First, there is the historical significance of Luther's life and work. Many people today have little to no understanding about the history of Christianity and how this history continues to shape our present world. Learning about Luther teaches us that the past is much more complicated and dynamic than we might realize.

How historically accurate is the Kings Speech? ›

Ludo Max, UW associate professor of speech and hearing sciences, says that the movie is an accurate portrayal of stuttering and of the techniques used to overcome the speech disorder during the 1930s and 1940s. But there are some inconsistencies with what is known today about stuttering.

How much is the MLK speech worth? ›

Raveling said "You know, I've got the speech." Raveling dug it out of the book, had it frame, and now 59 years later, the Sports Business Daily estimates it's value at about $25,000,000.

Did MLK influence the Civil Rights Act? ›

With King at its helm, the civil rights movement ultimately achieved victories with the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

What are 5 accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr? ›

MLK's accomplishments by date
  • 1955 – The Montgomery Bus Boycott. ...
  • 1957 – The founding of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) ...
  • 1963 – The Birmingham Campaign. ...
  • 1963 – The Great March on Washington. ...
  • 1964 – Civil Rights Act of 1964. ...
  • 1964 – Nobel Peace Prize. ...
  • 1965 – 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Jan 14, 2022

What were two of the tactics that Dr King used to promote civil rights? ›

While others were advocating for freedom by “any means necessary,” including violence, Martin Luther King, Jr. used the power of words and acts of nonviolent resistance, such as protests, grassroots organizing, and civil disobedience to achieve seemingly-impossible goals.

How was MLK an American hero? ›

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is known as one of America's greatest heroes. In the 1950s and 1960s, he fought to end laws that were unfair to African Americans. He worked to make sure all Americans had equal rights.

What are 3 important facts about Martin Luther King? ›

  • Martin Luther King Jr. was named after Protestant reformer Martin Luther. ...
  • King entered college when he was 15-years-old. ...
  • King was arrested 29 times. ...
  • King survived an assassination attempt a decade before his death. ...
  • After his death, the King family filed a civil case against the government and won.

What events changed Martin Luther King's life? ›

1955 The 26-year-old King leads boycott of segregated Montgomery buses, gains national reputation. King's house is bombed 1956 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prompts Montgomery to desegregate buses. 1957 King helps found Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

How did Martin Luther King changed the world quizlet? ›

What did Martin Luther King do? He lead multiple protests and helped the African Americans get so many rights that they did not have. What ways did Martin Luther King protest? He used peaceful protests to get his point across.

What impact did Presidents Kennedy and Johnson have on the civil rights movement? ›

On July 2, 1964, a little more than a year after President Kennedy introduced the bill, President Johnson officially signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. The act made discrimination in public facilities and federally funded programs illegal.

What happened to Martin Luther King in his early life? ›

As a child, King's encounters with racial discrimination were mild but formative. The first significant one came when he began school. White playmates of his were to attend a different elementary school from his, and, once the year began, their parents no longer allowed King to come over and play.


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