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Martin Luther King and Affirmative Action

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Submitted By captainobvious
Words 1487
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Robert A. Fischer
Raven Puente
ENGL 2302 American Literature
22 October 2012
Martin Luther King and Affirmative Action The 1960’s were a time of great unrest. America was locked in the stalemate of the cold war with the Soviet Union. In the early 1950s, we had helped to beat back communism in Korea only to have it resurface again in Vietnam. We almost came to blows with Russia over the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1961. There were conflicts all over the world to include Chairman Mao’s crackdown against capitalism called the Cultural Revolution, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Six Days War between Israel and its neighboring Arabic countries, and conflicts in South America and Africa that led to successful coups being accomplished. There were numerous prestigious men around the world that were assassinated to include but not limited to the United States President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Medger Evans, Ngo Dinh Diem the President of Vietnam, and Hendrik Verwoerd the Prime Minister of South Africa. The 1960s were truly a time of great unrest. But the unrest that was prevalent in the 1960s was not confined to the world stage and not all of it was negative. In the United States, the unrest of the 1960s led to the Civil Rights Movement that guaranteed equal rights to many groups that had until then been treated unfairly. It led to the passage of laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Man and women rose up and came to the forefront of the mostly non-violent movement and have come to be recognized as being pre-eminent among all Americans. One of those that led the fight for equality was Martin Luther King Jr. The speech that he gave in 1963 has come to be viewed as one of the greatest in American history alongside President Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. Most American’s remember the words “I have a dream…” that he issued eight times during the speech. Or they remember the closing words “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!” (American Literature p.1907-09) They are great lines in an incredible speech, but they are not the most important lines of the speech. The line that should resonate the loudest is the one that he uttered about halfway into his speech. “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” (American Literature p.1908)
It’s this line that above all, gave birth to the Equal Opportunity and the Affirmative Action Laws that still permeate the American culture today. As with any laws, there are positive and there are negative actions that occur as a result of the laws enacted. The positive actions are ones that are usually foreseen and strived for while the negative ones come about as a result of unforeseen complications. The year after King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” was first uttered, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. It was the first of its kind in America. It, along with the Supreme Court’s decision in the hallmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education, helped to reverse the United States long standing history of racial discrimination. When President Johnson signed the Act into law, the language in it uses King’s speech as inspiration to ensure that all were to be treated fairly, without regard to the color of their skin. Johnson: “Johnson saw ‘affirmative action’ social mobility programs with an anti-discriminatory effort in which employers would broaden the pool of applicants to ensure that members of all races had a fair share to compete, rather than as a system of preferences in which members of different races were held to different standards.”(Kahlenberg p.9) As the years have gone by, as the laws regarding Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity have been rewritten and tweaked to coincide with the times, much of the language has stayed the same. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Labor still adheres to Executive Order 11246, which reads in multiple places throughout its text, that contractors will ensure that all applicants “will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” (Department of Labor) Unfortunately, with every step forward, there are growing pains. King’s legacy to the United States has not gone without complications and not a few steps backwards. One of those complications comes in the form of reverse discrimination. This is where a program, whether it is an employment program or an admissions program for schools, hires someone or admits them solely because they are a minority rather than looking at their qualifications. Take the case of Paul Johnson. He, along with six others to include Diane Joyce, applied for and was qualified for a dispatcher job at the Santa Clara County Transportation agency. Even though Johnson scored higher on a county test and had more experience, Joyce received the position because the director believed that hiring a woman for the job presented an opportunity to make progress in the affirmative action program of his county. In doing so, while he may have had the best intentions in mind, he violated the code of the affirmative action law and went against what Dr. King believed in. (Urofsky) Another area where Affirmative Action runs afoul of the intent of Dr. King is in the area of admission to college. Two former Ivy League presidents, William Bowen of Princeton and Derek Bok of Harvard, conducted a study in which they came to the conclusion that “race-sensitive admissions” have been beneficial to minorities, to universities, and to society in general. To back up their conclusions, they use certain statistics to prove their points. Unfortunately, when a looked at closely as was done by Thomas Sowell, it seems that they used only the statistics which validated their position and ignored data which could have contradicted it. They didn’t use any data from two resources; they didn’t use any data from all black colleges and they didn’t use any data from colleges that were lacking in affirmative action programs. They knew that if they had, it would have worked to invalidate their position. It would seem that they came to a politically correct conclusion of their own and then went out and found the data to back them up. But when ALL the data was gathered and inspected, Sowell came to a different conclusion, one that points out that those minority students who were admitted based on higher qualifications, graduated at a higher rate than those who were admitted under “race-sensitive” standards. (Sowell) The data gathered by Sowell would seem to validate what Dr. King preached in his speech. That it is better to be judged, hired, or admitted based on a person’s character and qualifications rather than upon their race, creed, color, or national origin. That is what Dr. King would have wanted for all Americans, regardless of their skin color. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left us a legacy which will not soon be forgotten, as well it never should be. He was out in the forefront in the fight for equality for all. He fought to make sure that all were to be given equal chances whether they were white or black, man or woman. His legacy brought about many changes in America, mostly for the better, a few for the worse; those changes were not the best for America were made with the best intentions in mind. All this really shows is that the work is not done. It will never be done as long as there is more than one race living under the umbrella of freedom that America provides. There will always be racial animosity in this country as well as in the rest of the world. But as long as there are leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. around, the world will continue to move forward to a better and a brighter future for all, regardless of their color.

Works Cited
Kahlenberg, Richard D. The Remedy: Class, Race, and Affirmative Action. New York: Basic Books, c1996.
Sowell, Thomas. "Racial Quotas in College Admissions: A Critique of the Bowen and Bok Study." Hoover Digest (1999). <http:www.hoover.org/publications/hoover-digest/article/7662>.
"The 1960s — History.com Articles, Video, Pictures and Facts." n.d. <http://www.history.com/topics/1960s>.
"U.S. Department of Labor - OFCCP - Executive Order 11246, As Amended." n.d. <http://dol.gov/ofccp/regs/statutes/eo11246.htm>.
Urofsky, Melvin I. A Conflict of Rights; The Supreme Court and Affirmative Action. Ed. Barbara J. Kraetsch. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991. Book Review.…...

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