In three weeks, America will celebrate the Civil Rights Act's 50th anniversary, but its supposed beneficiaries African-Americans are less inclined to celebrate these days, according to results of a poll by the Pew Research Center. Growing numbers feel there's been a steady erosion in the quality of their lives and the progress of civil rights in recent years.

Certainly, the political and social status of blacks has improved vastly in the past 50 years. But surveys indicate that during the heady boom times of the 1990s, blacks felt particularly left behind. According to the Pew poll, African-Americans are less upbeat today about the state of their progress than at any time since 1983. Only a fifth of those surveyed feel they're better off today than five years ago. Fewer than half are positive about the future.

Most blacks believe racial discrimination still affects their ability to find a job, obtain housing, get seated in a restaurant or gain access to higher education. The reality might be far different, but this is the prevailing perception nonetheless. Recent events, such as the Jena Six case in Louisiana and slow arrival of aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, have bolstered these attitudes.

In a post-Katrina 2005 speech, President Bush acknowledged that a gap persists for poor Southern blacks: ”That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action … (to) let us rise above the legacy of inequality.”

But bold action remains in short supply, and Dallas is one of the cities where that's most evident. The racial divide between the northern and southern halves of the city coincides with patterns of poverty, blight and persistent neglect if not deliberate abandonment by commercial and residential developers.

It'll take more than words to restore African-Americans' sense of hope, and nothing can work faster to start closing our city's gap than providing good jobs, better housing and access to supermarkets and building a sense of social inclusion. It's a national problem, but the solution starts right here.

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—The Dallas Morning News