Desegregation and Diversity in Higher Education
Affirmative action legislation was initiated when it became clear that action undertaken to end discrimination, such as Brown v. Board of Education ( 1954), which ended legalized school segregation was not sufficient to end exclusion. In response to pressures from civil rights organizations, a string of executive orders, court rulings, and voluntary practices was initiated in the 1960s and 1970s that was intended to address this failing.
-- Walter Feinberg ( 1998: 7)
As Feinberg so forthrightly states, the link between desegregation and affirmative action has a long and complex history, and the connection between the two is as close as the two faces of a single coin. Most commentators in speeches and books have treated the two issues as though they were discrete phenomena, but as history shows, both have had similar goals, and remarkably similar travails and at the moment, have suffered similar fates.
Both desegregation and affirmative action were implemented as conservative, partial, and incomplete measures to take the nation from its two hundred-year history of slavery, legalized discrimination, and racism into a new era of equality. That they fell short of that lofty goal should come as no surprise. But that they have occasioned some retrogression of their initial intent is a matter of some disquiet. It will be the burden of this chapter to delineate the tangled and separate lives of desegregation and affirmative action and their effect on people and the nation.