Civil Rights Struggle and the
Rise of Affirmative Action
In 1958, Lt. Colin Powell was attending Ranger school at Fort Benning, Georgia, where every time he left the base he was “plunged back into the Old South.”
I could go into Woolworth's in Columbus, Georgia, and buy anything I wanted, as long as I did not try to eat there. I could go into a department store and they would take my money, as long as I did not try to use the men's room. I could walk along the street, as long as I did not look at a white woman.
While training in the north Georgia hills Powell wanted to attend church services on Sundays. A simple request, but in order to do that he had to be driven to an African American church some miles away. The army summoned a white corporal to drive the black lieutenant to the closest Baptist church. On one Sunday, the corporal informed Powell that he also would like to attend services. Powell asked the preacher, but the kindly old minister said that he feared the reaction of local white folks. The “reality I wanted to ignore, was forcing its way into my life, ” wrote Powell, “the lunatic code that made it wrong for two men to sit together in a house of God, or share a meal in a restaurant, or use the same bathroom.”
“Racism was not just a black problem, ” Powell continued. “It was America's problem.” During the 1950s southern states continued to restrict black voting rights by gimmicks and various tests, so by 1958 only 9 percent of Alabama blacks were registered to vote; only 4 percent in Mississippi. Most residential areas were segregated by law; concerning education, Southerners saved money at black schools, which often