A Second Redemption?

The end of Reconstruction in the 1870s undid much of the progress that had been made toward achieving racial equality. Indeed, an era nearly as repressive as the one that preceded the Civil War came into being. While the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments were not repealed, they were virtually ignored by the white majority, circumscribed by narrow Court rulings, and undermined by segregation laws and black disfranchisement. To make matters worse, science and popular culture were sometimes enlisted to bolster racism. Biological "evidence" purported to prove that whites as a "race" were genetically superior to blacks. Birth of a Nation ( 1915), the first great full-length film, reinforced and spread racist views, such as that slavery had been relatively benign, that Reconstruction had been the worst period in American history, and that groups like the Ku Klux Klan had saved the nation from racial suicide.

Recent developments have led many to wonder if history is repeating itself. Is the Second Reconstruction, the term often used to identify the modern civil rights movement, giving way to a second reversal? One can muster much evidence to support the notion that it is. In 1996 California voters passed Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in state-run programs. Over the past decade numerous court decisions have constrained aspects of affirmative action. For example, in the cases of City of Richmond v. J. R. Croson Co. ( 1989) and Adarand Constructors v. Peña ( 1995), the Supreme Court disallowed set-aside plans that required a specific percent of public contracts to be awarded to minority firms, and it demanded "strict scrutiny" in establishing racial classifications and narrowly tailored reme


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The Civil Rights Movement


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