document updated 6 years ago, on Sep 26, 2017
The Harris Survey
Dec 1966

Poll Gives Views on Negro Leaders


Negroes and whites are sharply divided in their assessment of Negro leaders. Most Negroes feel that Martin Luther King, the symbol of the civil rights movement to both races, is helping their cause far more than he is hurting it. Whites, by a 3-to-2 margin, believe he is setting back the Negro cause.

Rep. Adam Clayton Powell of New York, whose legal difficulties have provoked a challenge to his being seated in the 90th Congress, is a highly controversial figure. Negroes rate him only 6-to-5 positive. Whites take a 6-to-1 negative view.

Other key results from the special survey among a nationwide cross section of whites and Negroes:

However, many of the Negro leaders are unknown to both white and Negro adults.

The cross section was handed a card with the name and identification of 11 Negroes who have been in the news about civil rights.

They were then asked: “Tell me for each man if in your opinion you think he is helping or hurting the Negro cause of civil rights.”

Helping Pct. Hurting Pct. Unsure Pct.
M L King 36 50 14
Roy Wilkins 31 16 53
Ralph Bunche 28 9 63
Dick Gregory 17 27 56
Thurgood Marshall 11 7 82
Whitney Young 8 12 80
Adam Clayton Powell 8 49 43
Floyd McKissick 7 22 71
A. Philip Randolph 6 9 85
Elijah Mohammed 3 64 33
Stokely Carmichael 2 45 53

Although he is negatively received by the white community, Martin Luther King is viewed far differently by educated and uneducated whites, as the following table indicates:

Helping Pct. Hurting Pct. Unsure Pct.
Total Whites 36 50 14
8th or less 29 52 19
High School 32 53 15
College 50 41 9

As other Harris Surveys have indicated, the more affluent better-educated segment of white America is far more sympathetic with the civil rights movement than those in lower income and education brackets.

The line-up among Negroes:

Helping Pct. Hurting Pct. Unsure Pct.
King 64 27 9
Wilkins 62 8 30
Bunche 56 7 37
Gregory 53 14 33
Young 39 2 59
Marshall 34 20 46
Powell 34 31 35
McKissick 30 9 61
Randolph 33 7 60
Carmichael 18 34 48
E. Mohammed 5 49 56

Compared to previous studies of Negro attitudes toward the leadership of the civil rights movement, there are signs of growing criticism among members of their own race. This survey also records more Negro negative response to King than before. It is mainly centered, ironically enough, among middle-income Negroes who feel he is being too militant in pressing for integrated housing.

Of course, one of the political facts of life about the civil rights movement is that probably the optimum positioning for leadership is to be just unacceptable to the white community while carrying the loyalty of the Negro community solidly. Carmichael does not do this, but Martin Luther King does. That may be the most significant finding for whites and Negroes alike.

Copyright 1966, The Washington Post Co. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.