The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action

By Terry H. Anderson | Go to book overview
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The Pursuit of Fairness

At the beginning of our involvement in World War II, just a year after A. Philip Randolph threatened his march on Washington, Mark Ethridge, the liberal publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal commented at a Fair Employment Practices Commission hearing, “No white Southerner can logically challenge the statement that the Negro is entitled, as an American citizen, to full civil rights and to economic opportunity.” But, he continued, Northerners “must recognize that there is no power in the world—not even in all the mechanized armies of the earth, Allied and Axis—which could now force the Southern white people to the abandonment of the principle of social segregation.”

In 1942 that outlook was considered realistic, and segregation was considered fair. A poll taken two years later asked, “Do you think Negroes should have as good a chance as white people to get any kind of job, or do you think white people should have the first chance at any kind of job?” Only 44 percent thought that blacks should have equal opportunity.

Fortunately, America has moved light years past those traditional assumptions—and nowhere is that more apparent than in race relations. After the civil rights and women's liberation movements, most citizens began to accept a different interpretation of fairness. An “underlying assumption of the rule of law, wrote Justice Powell in Bakke, “is the worthiness of a system of justice based on fairness to the individual, and that meant to every citizen.

This fundamental shift came about because of protests that revealed inequality in American society, a governmental response in the form of civil rights laws and equal employment and affirmative action regulations,


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The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action


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