"Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards," said Holder, nation's first black attorney general.
Race issues continue to be a topic of political discussion, Holder said, but "we, as average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race."
"Saturdays and Sundays, America in the year 2009 does not in some ways differ significantly from the country that existed almost 50 years ago. This is truly sad," said Holder.
ABC News polls show there has been sharply increased social interaction between black and white Americans in the past few decades. In June, 79 percent of whites reported having a "fairly close personal friend" who's black, up from 54 percent in 1981. Ninety-two percent of blacks reported having a white friend, up from 69 percent a generation ago.
Similarly, a 2005 poll found that 48 percent of whites and 63 percent of blacks said someone in their family had brought a friend of the other race home for dinner — also far higher than when the data series began in 1973.