Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University has launched “Say Their Names. Hear Their Voices,” a publicly available collection of more than 80 years of public opinion surveys of Black Americans and U.S. attitudes about Black America, presented with context about race in polling over the years.

In addition to questions about Victory Gardens and political candidates, one of the polls asked white residents whether Black people should be allowed to move into any neighborhood; how a Black family moving nearby might affect home values; and if respondents would rent or buy a home previously occupied by a Black family.

The poll offers a glimpse of systemic racism that nearly 75 years later, sparked by George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police, has become the focus of national protests and calls for reform.

“We hope this collection advances historical knowledge, amplifies Black public opinion and proclaims Black Lives Matter,” said Peter Enns, professor of government and executive director of the Roper Center.

Nonmembers of the Roper Center may request any of the featured survey datasets by contacting the center. The collection also offers downloadable charts of recent public opinion surveys related to race relations, police brutality and reactions to Black Lives Matter protests.

Those surveys show, for example, that more than two-thirds of Americans think Floyd’s death was not an isolated incident and that police are more likely to use force against Black people than white people. At the same time, more than half the nation disagrees with renaming military bases named for Confederate leaders, and 73% oppose the idea of reparations.

The collection pays tribute to pioneering work sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois published in 1899, described as one of the earliest attempts to systematically record the attitudes of Black Americans.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, some polls inquired directly about racist beliefs, such as whether Blacks were as intelligent as whites or if their blood was different. It was not until 1969 that a major national public poll focused on the views of Black Americans with a sample large enough for researchers to analyze.

Around the same time, General Electric was conducting quarterly polls with Black samples that included questions about corporations’ role in improving race relations. The Roper Center has partnered with the Cornell Center for Social Sciences to convert 14 of those surveys from IBM punch cards to modern data formats.

“Because these data have been stored in column binary format, which is incompatible with modern statistical software, the views and opinions of these individuals have been concealed for more than 40 years,” Enns said.

“This project,” Enns said, “will help ensure that today’s scholars and future generations remember these voices.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.