Tuesday, July 27, 2004

  Richard Nixon and the origins of affirmative action

A little history lesson:

"Incredible but true," declared Fortune magazine at the time of Richard M. Nixon's death in 1994. "It was the Nixonites who gave us employment quotas."(1) Until recently, many scholars and journalists have credited Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson with initiating affirmative action. Yet it was a Republican president who first sanctioned formal goals and time frames to raze barriers to minority employment. Nixon, recalled civil rights leader James Farmer, was the strongest president on affirmative action--up to that point."(2)
Many labor unions effectively resisted opening their apprenticeship programs to minorities, and lacking enforcement powers as well as personnel and funds, the President's Committee on Government Contracts secured few skilled jobs for blacks. To show good faith, AFL-CIO officials often cited statistics showing incremental progress in admitting black members. Meanwhile, George Meany, a member of the committee, defended its tame policy of persuasion, mediation, and conciliation and refused to compel union locals to alter their admission practices.

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