The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action

The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action

The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action

The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action


Affirmative action strikes at the heart of deeply held beliefs about employment and education, about fairness, and about the troubled history of race relations in America. Published on the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, this is the only book available that gives readers a balanced, non-polemical, and lucid account of this highly contentious issue. Beginning with the roots of affirmative action, Anderson describes African-American demands for employment in the defense industry--spearheaded by A. Philip Randolph's threatened March on Washington in July 1941--and the desegregation of the armed forces after World War II. He investigates President Kennedy's historic 1961 executive order that introduced the term "affirmative action" during the early years of the civil rights movement and he examines President Johnson's attempts to gain equal opportunities for African Americans. He describes President Nixon's expansion of affirmative action with the Philadelphia Plan--which the Supreme Court upheld--along with President Carter's introduction of "set asides" for minority businesses and the Bakke ruling which allowed the use of race as one factor in college admissions. By the early 1980s many citizens were becoming alarmed by affirmative action, and that feeling was exemplified by the Reagan administration's backlash, which resulted in the demise and revision of affirmative action during the Clinton years. He concludes with a look at the University of Michigan cases of 2003, the current status of the policy, and its impact. Throughout, the author weighs each side of every issue--often finding merit in both arguments--resulting in an eminently fair account of one of America's most heated debates. A colorful history that brings to life the politicians, legal minds, and ordinary people who have fought for or against affirmative action, The Pursuit of Fairness helps clear the air and calm the emotions, as it illuminates a difficult and critically important issue.


As the nine robed justices listened to the arguments in the cases against the University of Michigan in April 2003, several thousand rallied outside on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. They had come from many universities, including Harvard, Penn State, U.C. Berkeley, Howard, Georgetown, and especially, Michigan. Most were black, some whites and Hispanics, and many held signs as they listened to speakers Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. “We must fight this fight, ” Jackson declared, and then the crowd joined him in chanting, “The struggle is not over.”

Others hoped it was over, including two white women. Jennifer Gratz had applied to become an undergraduate at the university, and Barbara Grutter had sought acceptance into the law school. Denied admission, the two women sued in separate cases, claiming that the university's policy violated their rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That policy was affirmative action. The university had used race as one of the many criteria for admission.

Ten weeks later, in June, the Supreme Court issued its decisions, the most crucial ones concerning higher education since the late 1970s. By a narrow 5 to 4 majority, the Court again found affirmative action constitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor declared, “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary.”

The response was immediate and expected. “The court's decision is a great victory for American higher education, ” declared the former . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.