A Step Forward Seen For Blacks in America

By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 28, 2008; Page A23

Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy is widely seen as a sign of progress for African Americans, and more than a third of U.S. adults say his nomination tonight makes them prouder to be Americans.

The new Washington Post-ABC News poll also shows a jump in the percentage of black voters who think their children could one day grow up to be president. The numbers are a backdrop to Obama's ascension to the top of the Democratic ticket, as he becomes the first African American major-party presidential nominee 45 years to the day after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington.

"One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society," King said on this date in 1963, lamenting the state of black America a century after slavery was outlawed. Now, 76 percent of African Americans and 71 percent of whites see Obama's nomination as evidence of broad-based achievements for blacks in the country. Far fewer, 21 percent overall, see it more as a single case that does not reflect a more fundamental shift.

"It will mark a significant change in national politics," Alan Brangman, 56, an African American who lives in Falls Church, said in a follow-up interview. "What this shows is that everyone has the same opportunity here." For Mark Miller, 33, of Las Vegas, who is also black, Obama's nomination marks "the final sign of progress" for the civil rights movement.

The opinion that Obama's rise is symbolic of general progress for African Americans is shared across lines of party, education and income and is held by majorities of the young and old alike and by those in the South as well as elsewhere.

But those numbers do not necessarily reflect a wide thaw in perceptions about the status of race relations. In a June Post-ABC poll, only a small majority called race relations in the country "excellent" or "good," with nearly two-thirds of African Americans saying those relations are "not so good" or downright "poor."

In that poll, a majority of African Americans said Obama's candidacy would do more to help race relations than to hurt them, while whites were not so convinced.

For Allen Goodman, 71, of Fresno, Calif., Obama's candidacy "hopefully will mean that we've crossed a bridge into a time when race doesn't matter."

"I don't think that's going to happen," said Goodman, who is white. "I think there's still a lot of latent racism among all of us . . . but I think it's a hopeful, hopeful sign."

Nearly two-thirds of black voters in the new poll said they could see one of their children becoming president, up 11 percentage points from the fall of 1992. At 47 percent, whites are about where they were back then on the question.

Miller said "people are going to look at him [Obama] and say, 'Maybe I can run for office -- for any office.' " He is also convinced Obama will be "very inspirational to lots of people."

African Americans in the poll were also substantially more likely to say Obama's historic run has increased their pride in being American. About two-thirds said they are more proud because of Obama's rise. Obama's nomination makes nearly a third of whites feel more proud.

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