What Is The History Of Affirmative Action?

Learn the history of affirmative action by reading this article.

Affirmative action was originally instituted as an appendage to the national effort to remedy the widespread subjugation of racial and ethnic minorities. Women were also included under this umbrella. Some affirmative action efforts actually sprung up prior to the explosion of interest in civil rights issues in the fifties and sixties. However they did not actually become instituted until it became clear that anti-discrimination statutes alone were not sufficient enough means to reverse the longstanding patterns of discrimination that plagued society.

For much of the 20th century, women and minorities have had to deal with more than their fair share of legal and social segregation. The first time progress was effectively implemented towards diminishing segregation was during the labor shortage of World War II. During this time, the employment opportunities for African Americans and women were vastly expanded, not because of some great social conscious raising but because most of the white males were busy fighting the war. Racial prejudice did not wane however, despite the flood of African Americans and other minorities spilling into the workforce. When World War II ended, returning GI's reclaimed their jobs and blacks and women were once again on the periphery of the American workforce.

When the civil rights movement had finally gathered enough momentum to make a difference, several significant victories occurred. Brown v. Board of Education and the other cases striking down segregation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 all helped advance the Constitution's promise of equal opportunity rights for all human beings. However, even after the civil rights laws passed, the path to equal opportunity for minorities and women was still a bumpy one. After all, the passage of a few laws was hardly enough to eradicate the ingrained stereotypes that people had passed on for generations.

By 1960, the $7.5 billion in federal grants-in-aid to the states and cities for highway, school, airport, school and public housing construction went almost exclusively to whites. Meanwhile, the U.S. Employment Service was making very little effort to fight for the rights of minority workers. It even went so far as to fund efforts for state-operated employment bureaus that encouraged skilled blacks to register for unskilled jobs.

The President's Committee on Government Contracts, chaired by Vice-President Nixon in 1959, blamed "the indifference of employers to establishing a positive policy of nondiscrimination." Reacting to the civil rights movement, President John F. Kennedy established a Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity in 1961 and later issued Executive Order 10925, which used the term "affirmative action" to refer to any measures generated to achieve non-discrimination. In 1965, President Johnson issued Executive Order 11246 requiring federal contractors to take affirmative action to "ensure equality of employment opportunity without regard to race, religion and national origin." Gender was included in the action in 1968.

Perpetuating the civil rights movement and affirmative action even further was the fact that on March 23, 1973, the Nixon administration's Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Civil Service Commission issued a joint memorandum titled "State and Local Employment Practices Guide." The guide pointed out that the Nixon Administration... "since September of 1969, recognized that goals and timetables... are a proper means for helping to implement the nation's commitment to equal employment opportunity." While strict quotas were not encouraged, goals based on specific timetables were.

Historically, precedents have been set in favor of affirmative action. Statistically, benchmarks such as unequal salaries, admission rates, and unemployment rates have been used to show that there is a need for some type of affirmative action. The modern business world has also shown the need for affirmative action. However, the government has definitely begun to backslide in its support of affirmative action in recent years, and the results must be carefully montitored.

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