s where peopleof color, white women, and working class women and men of all races who werepreviously excluded from jobs or educational opportunities, or were denied opportunitiesonce admitted, have gained access through affirmative action. When these policiesreceived executive branch and judicial support, vast numbers of people of color, whitewomen and men have gained access they would not otherwise have had. These gainshave led to very real changes. Affirmative action programs have not eliminated racism,nor have they always been implemented without problems. However, there would be nostruggle to roll back the gains achieved if affirmative action policies were ineffective.
The implementation of affirmative action was America’s first honest attempt at solvinga problem, it had previously chosen to ignore. In a variety of areas, from the quality ofhealth care to the rate of employment, blacks still remain far behind whites. Theirrepresentation in the more prestigious professions is still almost insignificant.
Comparable imbalances exist for other racial and ethnic minorities as well as for women.
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Yet, to truly understand the importance of affirmative action, one must look atAmerica’s past discrimination to see why, at this point in history, we must become morecolor conscious.
History Of Discrimination In America: Events Leading To Affirmative Action.
The Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are created equal. Yet Americais scarred by a long history of legally imposed inequality. Snatched from their nativeland, transported thousands of miles-in a nightmare of disease and death-and sold intoslavery, blacks in America were reduced to the legal status of farm animals. A SupremeCourt opinion, Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857), made this official by classifying slaves asa species of private property.
Even after slavery was abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, Americanblacks, other minorities, and women continued to be deprived of some of the mostelementary right of citizenship. During the Reconstruction, after the end of the CivilWar, the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in 1868, making blacks citizens andpromised them the equal protection of the laws. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendmentwas passed, which gave blacks the right to vote. Congress also passed a number ofcivil rights laws barring discrimination against blacks in hotels, theaters, and otherplaces. However, the South reacted by passing the Black Codes, which severelylimited the rights of the newly freed slaves, preventing them in most states fromtestifying in courts against whites, limiting their opportunities to find work, andgenerally assigning them to the status of second or third class citizen. White vigilantegroups like the Klu Klux Klan began to appear, by murdering and terrorizing blacks whotried to exercise their new rights. Legal ways were also found for circumventing thenew laws; these included grandfather clauses, poll taxes, white only primaryelections, and constant social discrimination against and intimidation of blacks, whowere excluded form education and from any job except the most menial.
In 1883, the Supreme Court declared a key civil rights statute, one that prohibitsdiscrimination in public accommodations, unconstitutional. And in 1896, Plessy v.
Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 ), the Court declared that the state of Louisiana had theright to segregate their races in every public facility. Thus began the heyday of JimCrow legislation. In Justice John Marshall Harlan’s lone dissent, he realized it was amockery. He wrote, We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our peoples above all otherpeoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which,practically, puts a brand of servitude and degregation upon a large class of our fellowcitizens, our equals before the law. This thin disguise of ‘equal’ accommodations forpassengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, or atone for the wrong this daydone.
Not until sixty years later, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (347 U.S.
483 ), was Plessy overturned. Chief Justice earl Warren declared the unanimousopinion of the court by saying: We cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when theAmendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. Intoday’s world, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
This decision sparked racial tensions all across America. in 1957, President Eisenhowerhad to call federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas, after the state’s governor forciblybarred black children from entering white schools. In 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested andfined, for not moving to the back of a
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