These two laws constituted the real beginning of the end for Jim Crow laws and practices.
EMPOWERING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT
The civil rights movement may have gained impetus and cooperation among people with differing opinions and goals from what Canady (1998) called the "animating principle," or the principle that got people of differing views and backgrounds working effectively together: the idea that dignity was the right of all men, women and children in the country, and not just those born to relative power. This sense of personal dignity was reflected in the Declaration of Independence, Lincoln's speeches during the Civil War, by Justice Harlan in his dissenting opinion of 1896, the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court in 1954, and in the civil laws that followed. The Civil Rights movement embraced Harlan's view that our Constitution should be color-blind. People of all races and backgrounds worked together to end systematic, enforced inequality based on color. As Andrew Kull, professor of law at Emory University wrote, "The undeniable fact is that over a period of some 125 years ending only in the late 1960s, the American civil-rights movement first elaborated, then held as its unvarying political objective, a rule of law requiring the color-blind treatment of individuals." (Canady, 1998)
In spite of the fact that today such equality is so accepted that those who see some races as inferior are viewed as people holding bizarre and odious beliefs, during the Civil Rights movement, Congress struggled with exactly what the government needed to do. The Civil Rights law passed in 1964 generated much discussion and debate, but eventually included a variety of provisions, notably Title VII, found in Section 703 (j) of the law, which specified that that entities could not maintain segregation because they chose to maintain the present balance between races in an organization.
Some believed that it was not enough to insist that decisions be made in a color-blind way. One school of thought argued that because African-Americans had been so systematically held back, both in education and in employment opportunities, it was time for schools and employers to make efforts to correct the effects of past discrimination. Primarily this correction took the form of affirmative action.
In February of 1970, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the "Philadelphia Plan," an affirmative action program that was to be adopted by all government contractors. This Plan required any entity receiving federal money to not only be color-blind when hiring, choosing students, etc., but to give some preference to Blacks to make up for past lack of opportunity (Canady, 1998). As a result of this plan, race was often the deciding factor on whether a person was hired, taken into a program, etc.
While some saw affirmative action as an important way to right wrongs and restore equality, others saw it as a new form of discrimination. Those in favor argued that Black college applicants were at a disadvantage because of discrimination practiced against them when they were younger and/or the grinding effects of discrimination on their parents and ancestors to have a chance to advance themselves in employment and education. However, some felt the new policy went too far, citing a white teacher who was fired to make room for a Black one, and stronger students rejected for college admission to make room for Black students who, at least on paper, were less qualified for admittance (Canady, 1998).
Critics of affirmative action, including Black critics, argue that affirmative action has mostly helped Blacks who had already moved into the middle class and that disadvantaged Blacks often did not have what was needed to benefit from affirmative action. They saw affirmative action as window dressing that did not get to the heart of what truly disadvantaged Blacks needed (Canady, 1998). Others argue that when affirmative action is in place, society is no longer color blind. James Farmer, one founder of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), argued that since the country as a whole had grown up in a racist society, it would be very hard for many employers to truly be color blind, making affirmative action necessary. Roy Wilkins, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), argued that special treatment now to make up for unequal treatment in the past was a poor solution. He said that Black people didn't want special treatment - that being treated like everyone else would be sufficient (Canady, 1998).
However, the good news in this debate was that one major point of agreement had been made, that all people really were supposed to be equal in the United States of America. This was a huge step forward after the Jim Crow laws that emerged out of the post Civil War Reconstruction era and that lingered for so long. Tremendous changes had been made. Four consecutive Presidents worked toward achieving equality: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, and even President Nixon, under whose watch affirmative action developed. The Supreme Court made multiple rulings supporting the idea, finally, that all men and women truly are created equal in the United States.
Some of today's young people might erroneously think that the Civil Rights movement is over, that their parents and grandparents did all the hard work and that race is no longer a serious issue in the United States. Many would not agree with that, however. Blacks still report being followed by store staff in stores, especially the more upscale ones, and believe that they are being watched to make sure they do not steal anything. Other Blacks report that they are pulled over by the police for alleged traffic violations than Whites are. The statistics show that as a group, Black students are less successful in school than White students are, and significant numbers of Black people still live in poverty in spite of decades of efforts to bring economic as well as social equality (Canady, 1998).
Black historians note that racial justice has not been truly achieved yet, so the push for civil rights cannot be viewed as completed (Eagles, 2000). This view is magnified by the fact that we have the words of politicians from forty years ago that could still be spoken today, such as Kennedy's statement: "We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated." (Canady, 1998)
In spite of the fact that work remains to be done, the Civil Rights movement in the United States managed to virtually end Jim Crow laws in only ten short years. While isolated issues remained, by the end of that ten-year period a fundamental shift had taken place in the mindset of most Americans, that discrimination was wrong and that it was time to try to put things right.
But the Civil Rights movement had another significant impact on the American landscape. By accomplishing so much in a ten-year period, it became evident that grass roots movements made up of simple people doing what they thought was right could make monumental changes in society (Morris, 1999). Those who were opposed to the Viet Nam War learned from the Civil Rights movement. They used civil disobedience, protests, marches and other approaches that started from the bottom and worked up to bring pressure on the United States government to end a war. Americans rediscovered what they learned in the 18th century when they rebelled against Great Britain, that if people really set their mind to fight for what they believe in, they can make major changes in their country.
Of all the people involved in the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., may have had the most profound effect on the views of the White people forced to share power in a way they had not shared it before. He said,
The image of God... is universally shared in equal portions by all men. There is no graded scale of essential worth. Every human being has etched in his personality the indelible stamp of the Creator.... The worth of an individual does not lie in the measure of his intellect, his racial origin, or his social position. Human worth lies in relatedness to God. Whenever this is recognized, 'whiteness' and 'blackness' pass away as determinants in a relationship and 'son' and 'brother' are substituted." (Canady, 1998)
Through such words he gave a face and a voice to the Civil Rights movement that many people could relate to. The Civil Rights movement was effective because many types of people came to agree with its goals, but this only happened because African-Americans decided that the time for change had come and found ways to force people to look injustice in the eye and see it for what it really…