Many blacks question whether any one person can wear the leadership mantle for such a large and diverse group of people. At the same time, two-thirds in the poll said leaders in their communities were effective representatives of their interests.
When blacks were asked to come up with the person they considered "the most important black leader," 15 percent chose Jackson, a civil rights activist who ran for president in the 1980s, while 11 percent picked Secretary of State Rice, 8 percent chose former Secretary of State Powell, and 6 percent named Obama, a freshman Democratic senator from Illinois.
About one-third declined to volunteer a name.
Two of the four mentioned most often, Rice and Powell, are from a Republican administration that is unpopular with most blacks.
Less than one in five of those polled, 18 percent, said the current black leadership is doing a "very effective" job of representing the black community. Half described black leadership as "somewhat effective."
"I'm kind of disillusioned," said retiree John Manning, who says the leadership is somewhat effective. The Democrat from Port Charlotte, Fla., added: "They seem to be going in different directions. There doesn't seem to be a cohesiveness."
The answers to the open-ended question about leadership were divided among a number of well-known black Americans — a sharp contrast to the 1960s, when Martin Luther King Jr. was recognized as the leading voice among many prominent civil rights leaders.
Nation of Islam minister Louis Farrakhan got 4 percent; talk show host Oprah Winfrey received 3 percent; King, who was killed in 1968, got 3 percent, and former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton got 2 percent. Some 14 percent picked somebody else.
One in five, 21 percent, said they were not sure whom to name among current black leaders and 13 percent chose no one. A few in the poll, 1 percent, named themselves.