Sharp increases in interracial marriage and, concomitantly, support for that institution in recent decades show that race relations in the United States have made almost unfathomable progress since Martin Luther King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.
In that speech, Dr. King eloquently stated America’s goals concerning race. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ … I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
America has not fully achieved these goals, but denying America’s amazing progress is equally wrong. That’s especially true of interracial marriage, which is the most intimate and sensitive aspect of race relations. There are, in fact, no better measures of how whites and blacks feel about each other than the rate of interracial marriage and attitudes toward these unions.
In 2017, the Pew Research Center reported that Americans are five times more likely to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity than in 1967. In 2015, 17 percent, or roughly one in six American newlyweds, married someone of a different race or ethnicity. In 1967, the rate was only 3 percent. At least as significantly, the rate of opposition by non-blacks to the possibility of a close relative marrying someone black has decreased from 63 percent in 1990 to only 14 percent in 2016. That amounts to a decline of 78 percent.
Pew’s findings are consistent with earlier reports and trends. In 2013, Pew reported that 12 percent of American newlyweds married someone of a different race. That was a record high back then. In the more specific category of marriages between blacks and whites, a 2007 study by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. reported that black men married white women at a rate almost six times higher in 2000 than in 1970.
In 2013, Gallup reported that among whites, the rate of approval of black-white marriage was 84 percent, almost five times higher than the 17 percent rate in 1969. The Gallup data show consistently increasing rates of approval of black-white marriage over the decades: 17 percent in 1969; 25 percent in 1973; 33 percent in 1979; 38 percent in 1983; 44 percent in 1991; 45 percent in 1995; 61 percent in 1997; 60 percent in 2003; 72 percent in 2004; 75 percent in 2007; 83 percent in 2011; and 84 percent in 2013.
These developments would not have been possible without dramatic improvement in race relations and acceptance of blacks as full citizens in American society. As full citizens, blacks now participate in all aspects and at all levels of American society: the Presidency; the Supreme Court; the Federal Reserve Board; and all positions in federal, state, and local government, the courts, the military, law enforcement, business, sports, the arts and sciences, and entertainment.
As such, the education and wage gaps between blacks and whites have narrowed. Another Pew report shows that in 1964, blacks were about 53 percent as likely as whites to have high school diplomas. By 2015, they were about 95 percent as likely. In 1964, blacks were about 40 percent as likely as whites to have college degrees. By 2015, they were about 64 percent as likely. A 2016 study by University of Louisiana at Monroe scholars Carl Kogut, Donna Luse, and Larry Short similarly reports that the gap between white and black employees’ wages “has narrowed substantially from about 50 percent in the late 1960s to between 17 and 23 percent.”
America has made stunning progress, but we are not yet done. Much progress still needs to be made. Doing that requires that we learn from America’s successes and celebrate its progress. It is critical that we recognize America’s massive steps forward regarding race since Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. To do otherwise will prevent America from giving full meaning to its founding creed that all people are created equal.