Martin Luther King Jr.: Revered More After Death Than Before

by Frank Newport

Americans chose King as second most admired person of century in 1999

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Monday is the official Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, honoring the memory of the civil rights leader who was born on Jan. 15, 1929, and assassinated on April 4, 1968.

At the end of the 20th century, King was one of Americans' most admired individuals, garnering as much respect as John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein. But King was far from universally revered during his lifetime.

In 1999, Gallup used a special research procedure to determine the most admired individuals of the 20th century. Based on the results of both open-ended and closed-ended questions, Gallup calculated a list of the 18 people Americans admired most.

The person receiving the most votes was Mother Teresa: 49% of Americans said she was "one of the people I admire most from the century." King was second, with 34% of the "most admired" votes. Following King on the list were John F. Kennedy, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Billy Graham, Pope John Paul II, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill.

In the years leading up to his death in 1968, however, King did not appear often among the top 10 on Gallup's most admired list.

Here are the top 10 lists of the men Americans admired most in the years between 1963 and 1967. King appeared on this list only two times, in 1965 and 1964:

Most Admired Man 1963-1967


1967 Dec 7-12

1966 Dec 8-13

1

Dwight Eisenhower

1

Lyndon Johnson

2

Lyndon Johnson

2

Dwight Eisenhower

3

Billy Graham

3

Robert Kennedy

4

Robert Kennedy

4

Billy Graham

5

Pope Paul VI

5

Pope Paul VI

6

Everett Dirksen

6

U Thant

7

Richard Nixon

7

Everett Dirksen

8

George Wallace

8

George Romney

9

Ronald Reagan

9

Richard Nixon

10

Harry Truman

10

Ronald Reagan


1965 Dec 11-16

1964

1963 Dec 5-10

1

Lyndon Johnson

1

Lyndon Johnson

1

Lyndon Johnson

2

Dwight Eisenhower

2

Winston Churchill

2

Dwight Eisenhower

3

Robert Kennedy

3

Dwight Eisenhower

3

Winston Churchill

4

Billy Graham

4

Martin Luther King Jr.

4

Albert Schweitzer

5

Pope Paul VI

5

Robert Kennedy

5

Robert Kennedy

6

Martin Luther King Jr.

6

Barry Goldwater

6

Billy Graham

7

Richard Nixon

7

Billy Graham

7

Adlai Stevenson

8

Hubert Humphrey

8

Adlai Stevenson

8

Pope Paul VI

9

Barry Goldwater

9

Albert Schweitzer

9

Charles de Gaulle

10

Harry Truman

10

Pope Paul VI

10

Richard Nixon

Gallup measured the public's perception of King in a different fashion in the 1960s, using a "scalometer" that asked the public to rate him on a +5 to a -5 scale. The resulting data show that King's image became more negative as the years went on.

In 1963, King had a 41% positive and a 37% negative rating; in 1964, it was 43% positive and 39% negative; in 1965, his rating was 45% positive and 45% negative; and in 1966 -- the last Gallup measure of King using this scalometer procedure -- it was 32% positive and 63% negative.

Gallup did not measure King in 1967 or 1968.

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