Story at a glance
- A survey released by More in Common found that most Americans remember the civil rights movement for its nonviolent protests and leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
- After King and Parks, Americans listed Brown v. Board of Education, the Selma march and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 among the top five events they remember.
- Most Americans surveyed agreed that all students should learn about leaders other than King and Parks, as well as the successes brought by the movement and the struggles faced by those involved.
Most Americans support teaching a thorough history of the civil rights movement and appreciate the historical significance of the era. But few can name pivotal figures or moments apart from Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the March on Washington, according to a new survey.
The survey released by More in Common found that most Americans remember the period for its nonviolent protests and leaders, including King and Rosa Parks. Yet most “appear to lack robust knowledge” of the era, and memories are murky when an event experienced pushback or encountered riots and violence. Many surveyed were unable to list five events from the period.
After King and Parks, Americans listed Brown v. Board of Education, the Selma march and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 among the top five events they remember.
“The anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28 is a moment to remember the voices and events from that era,” Coco Xu, the research analyst for More in Common U.S. who led the study, said in a statement. “But it’s clear to us that there are many civil rights leaders whose roles in the struggle are unknown to most Americans.”
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Despite their own knowledge of the era, most Americans believe in a robust teaching of the civil rights movement. Around 77 percent of those surveyed agreed that all students should learn about leaders other than King and Parks. Another nearly 80 percent agreed that students should learn both successes brought by the movement and the struggles faced by those involved.
Overall, more than three-quarters believe the movement “advanced the values of freedom and equality” in the U.S. and view it as an “important example of Americans exercising their right to protest.” Sixty-four percent believe that it is always appropriate to engage in nonviolent protests.
“The civil rights movement isn’t a static event in our history but the collection of decades of events, leaders and activists pushing for change,” Xu said.
“The broad support among Americans for learning more about the movement suggests that there are opportunities to deepen our shared understanding and honor the movement’s legacy,” Xu concluded.
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