n the United States, affirmative action refers to equal opportunity employment measures that Federal contractors and subcontractors are legally required to adopt. These measures are intended to prevent discrimination against employees or applicants for employment on the basis of "color, religion, sex, or national origin". Examples of affirmative action offered by the United States Department of Labor include outreach campaigns, targeted recruitment, employee and management development, and employee support programs.
The impetus toward affirmative action is to redress the disadvantages associated with overt historical discrimination. Further impetus is a desire to ensure public institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and police forces, are more representative of the populations they serve. Affirmative action is a subject of controversy. Some policies adopted as affirmative action, such as racial quotas or gender quotas for collegiate admission, have been criticized as a form of reverse discrimination, and such implementation of affirmative action has been ruled unconstitutional by the majority opinion of Gratz v. Bollinger. Affirmative action as a practice was upheld by the court's decision in Grutter v. Bollinger.
1860s: Civil War; end of slavery; Congress passes 14th Amendment guaranteeing blacks equal protection and seemingly, public accommodation.
1870s-1890s: Southern states turn back freedoms guaranteed to blacks by the 14th Amendment. Supreme Court decides Hall v. DeCuir (1878), which holds that one state cannot enforce an integration law on another state due to the Interstate Commerce Clause, and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which allows segregation so long as facilities are "separate but equal," which in fact they were not.
April 28, 1941: Arthur Mitchell, a black congressman from Chicago, wins Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in first class travel, establishing that "separate, but equal" accommodations must indeed be equal.
April 1942: Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed in Chicago by Jim Farmer, George Houser and Berniece Fisher. Houser and Farmer also work as race relations secretaries for the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
July 17, 1944: Irene Morgan arrested in Gloucester, Va., for refusing to give up her seat on an interstate bus headed to Maryland. NAACP lawyers Thurgood Marshall and Spottswood Robinson take her case.
June 3, 1946: Marshall and Robinson win Morgan v. Virginia in the Supreme Court, basing their argument not on the 14th Amendment, but Hall v. DeCuir. Their logic was if it is an "undue burden on commerce" for one state to enforce an integration law on another, so too would it be for a state to impose its segregation laws on interstate passengers.
Fall 1946: With few Southern states enforcing the Morgan decision, George Houser, Bayard Rustin and other leaders of the Congress of Racial Equality devise the idea of an interstate "Journey of Reconciliation" to the Upper South, in which whites and blacks would travel together, purposely violating local Jim Crow laws.
April 9-23, 1947: Rustin and Houser lead eight white men and eight black men in the Journey of Reconciliation through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. A second trip is suggested for an interracial group of women, but does not materialize.
1949: Rustin, Igal Roodenko and Joe Felmet sentenced to 30 days on a chain gang for violating North Carolina Jim Crow laws on the Journey.
May 17, 1954: Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education, overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and holding segregation unconstitutional.
August 1955: 14-year-old Emmett Till is lynched in Money, Mississippi.
December 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala., sparking a year-long bus boycott, led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Bayard Rustin serves as an advisor to the boycotters.
The pace of civil rights protests rose sharply in response to the Supreme Court's decision. Martin Luther King, Jr., led a boycott that ended segregated busing in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1957, National Guard troops under orders from President Dwight D. Eisenhower enforced the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. But, even after Little Rock, school integration was painfully slow, and segregation in general remained largely untouched.
In February 1960, four black college students sat down at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., and asked to be served. They were refused service, and they refused to leave their seats. Within days, more than 50 students had volunteered to continue the sit-in, and within weeks the movement had spread to other college campuses. Sit‑ins and other protests swept across the South in early 1960, touching more than 65 cities in 12 states. Roughly 50,000 young people joined the protests that year.
By the 1960 presidential campaign, civil rights had emerged as a crucial issue. Just a few weeks before the election, Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested while leading a protest in Atlanta, Georgia. John Kennedy phoned Coretta Scott King to express his concern while a call from Robert Kennedy to the judge helped secure her husband's safe release. The Kennedys' personal intervention led to a public endorsement by Martin Luther King, Sr., the influential father of the civil rights leader.
Across the nation, more than 70 percent of African Americans voted for Kennedy, and these votes provided the winning edge in several key states. When President Kennedy took office in January 1961, African Americans had high expectations for the new administration.
But Kennedy's narrow election victory and small working margin in Congress left him cautious. He was reluctant to lose southern support for legislation on many fronts by pushing too hard on civil rights legislation. Instead, he appointed unprecedented numbers of African Americans to high-level positions in the administration and strengthened the Civil Rights Commission. He spoke out in favor of school desegregation, praised a number of cities for integrating their schools, and put Vice President Lyndon Johnson in charge of the President's Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity. Attorney General Robert Kennedy turned his attention to voting rights, initiating five times the number of suits brought during the previous administration.
May 1961: Under Jim Farmer, CORE launches a second Journey of Reconciliation. This time, it's called a "Freedom Ride,", and this time, it targeted segregated bus stations as well as the buses themselves. The travelers, which include women and men, head to the Deep South, where they are brutally beaten. Jim Peck is the only veteran of the 1947 journey to participate.
In 1962, James H. Meredith, Jr., an African American Air Force veteran, was denied admission to the University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss." Meredith attempted to register four times without success.
Long telephone conversations between the president, the attorney general, and Governor Ross Barnett failed to produce a solution. When federal marshals accompanied Meredith to campus in another attempt to register for classes, rioting erupted. Two people died and dozens were injured. President Kennedy mobilized the National Guard and sent federal troops to the campus. Meredith registered the next day and attended his first class, and segregation ended at the University of Mississippi.
See Integrating Old Miss, an interactive website that tells the story of James Meredith and the tumultuous events surrounding his historic admission to the University of Mississippi.
Integrating the University of Alabama
Governor George Wallace had vowed at his inauguration to defend "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever." In June 1963, he upheld his promise to "stand in the schoolhouse door" to prevent two black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama. To protect the students and secure their admission, President Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard. And on June 11, the president addressed the nation.
Kennedy defined the civil rights crisis as moral, as well as constitutional and legal. He announced that major civil rights legislation would be submitted to the Congress to guarantee equal access to public facilities, to end segregation in education, and to provide federal protection of the right to vote.
August 28, 1963: March on Washington held, in which Dr. King gives his "I Had a Dream" speech. The event, then the largest mass protest to date in American history, is largely organized by Rustin.
November 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy is assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
The March on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964
In August 1963, more than 200,000 Americans of all races celebrated the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation by joining the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Key civil rights figures led the march, including A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Bayard Rustin, and Whitney Young. But the most memorable moment came when Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Later that fall, the comprehensive civil rights bill cleared several hurdles in Congress and won the endorsement of House and Senate Republican leaders. It was not passed, however, before November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated. The bill was left in the hands of Lyndon B. Johnson. Before becoming vice president, Johnson had served more than two decades in Congress as a congressman and senator from Texas. He used his connections with southern white congressional leaders and the outpouring of emotion after the president's assassination to pass the Civil Rights Act as a way to honor President Kennedy.
Provisions of the legislation included: (1) protecting African Americans against discrimination in voter qualification tests; (2) outlawing discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations engaged in interstate commerce; (3) authorizing the U.S. Attorney General's Office to file legal suits to enforce desegregation in public schools; (4) authorizing the withdrawal of federal funds from programs practicing discrimination; and (5) outlawing discrimination in employment in any business exceeding 25 people and creating an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to review complaints.
Passed on July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was a crucial step in achieving the civil rights movement's initial goal: full legal equality.
1964: Congress passes Civil Rights Act, permanently guaranteeing equal public accommodations.
1965: Congress passes Voting Rights Act
Black Power Movement
The Black Power movement grew out of the Civil Rights Movement that had steadily gained momentum through the 1950s and 1960s. Although not a formal movement, the Black Power movement marked a turning point in black-white relations in the United States and also in how blacks saw themselves. The movement was hailed by some as a positive and proactive force aimed at helping blacks achieve full equality with whites, but it was reviled by others as a militant, sometimes violent faction whose primary goal was to drive a wedge between whites and blacks. In truth, the Black Power movement was a complex event that took place at a time when society and culture was being transformed throughout the United States, and its legacy reflects that complexity.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) worked with blacks and whites to create a desegregated society and eliminate racial discrimination. Their efforts generated positive responses from a broad spectrum of people across the country. Rev. martin luther king jr., who headed the SCLC, made significant headway with his adherence to nonviolent tactics. In 1964, President lyndon b. johnson signed the civil rights act and a year later he signed the voting rights act.
Civil Rights legislation was an earnest and effective step toward eliminating inequality between blacks and whites. Even with the obvious progress, however, the reality was that prejudice could not be legislated away. Blacks still faced lower wages than whites, higher crime rates in their neighborhoods, and unspoken but palpable racial discrimination. Young blacks in particular saw the civil rights movement as too mainstream to generate real social change. What they wanted was something that would accelerate the process and give blacks the same opportunities as whites, not just socially but also economically and politically. Perhaps more important, they felt that the civil rights movement was based more on white perceptions of civil rights than black perceptions.
Not all blacks had been equally impressed with the civil rights movement. Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam, for example, felt that racial self-determination was a critical and neglected element of true equality. By the mid-1960s, dissatisfaction with the pace of change was growing among blacks. The term "black power" had been around since the 1950s, but it was Stokely Carmichael, head of the student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC), who popularized the term in 1966.
Carmichael led a push to transform SNCC from a multiracial community activist organization into an all-black social change organization. Late in 1966, two young men, huey newton and bobby seale, formed the black panther party for self-defense (BPP), initially as a group to track incidents of police violence. Within a short time groups such as SNCC and BPP gained momentum, and by the late 1960s the Black Power movement had made a definite mark on American culture and society.
The Black Power movement instilled a sense of racial pride and self-esteem in blacks. Blacks were told that it was up to them to improve their lives. Black Power advocates encouraged blacks to form or join all-black political parties that could provide a formidable power base and offer a foundation for real socioeconomic progress. For years, the movement's leaders said, blacks had been trying to aspire to white ideals of what they should be. Now it was time for blacks to set their own agenda, putting their needs and aspirations first. An early step, in fact, was the replacement of the word "Negro" (a word associated with the years of Slavery) with "black."
The movement generated a number of positive developments. Probably the most noteworthy of these was its influence on black culture. For the first time, blacks in the United States were encouraged to acknowledge their African heritage. Colleges and Universities established black studies programs and black studies departments. Blacks who had grown up believing that they were descended from a backwards people now found out that African culture was as rich and diverse as any other, and they were encouraged to take pride in that heritage. The Black Arts movement, seen by some as connected to the Black Power movement flourished in the 1960s and 1970s. Young black poets, authors, and visual artists found their voices and shared those voices with others. Unlike earlier black arts movements such as the Harlem Renaissance, the new movement primarily sought out a black audience.
The same spirit of racial unity and pride that made the Black Power movement so dynamic also made it problematic—and to some, dangerous. Many whites, and a number of blacks, saw the movement as a black separatist organization bent on segregating blacks and whites and undoing the important work of the civil rights movement. There is no question that Black Power advocates had valid and pressing concerns. Blacks were still victims of racism, whether they were being charged a higher rate for a mortgage, getting paid less than a white coworker doing the same work, or facing violence at the hands of white racists. But the solutions that some Black Power leaders advocated seemed only to create new problems. Some, for example, suggested that blacks receive paramilitary training and carry guns to protect themselves. Though these individuals insisted this device was solely a means of Self-Defense and not a call to violence, it was still unnerving to think of armed civilians walking the streets.
Also, because the Black Power movement was never a formally organized movement, it had no central leadership, which meant that different organizations with divergent agendas often could not agree on the best course of action. The more radical groups accused the more mainstream groups of capitulating to whites, and the more mainstream accused the more radical of becoming too ready to use violence. By the 1970s, most of the formal organizations that had come into prominence with the Black Power movement, such as the SNCC and the Black Panthers, had all but disappeared.
The Black Power movement did not succeed in getting blacks to break away from white society and create a separate society. Nor did it help end discrimination or racism. It did, however, help provide some of the elements that were ultimately necessary for blacks and whites to gain a fuller understanding of each other.