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Fashoro and Johnson

Abayomi Fashoro and Gerard Johnson


December 5, 2003

Professor Bruce Lusignan

Understanding the Influence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm on Black Progression

While several African-Americans are content with their social status in modern-day America, other African-Americans such as Reverend Jesse Jackson and Reverend Al Sharpton contend that the Black struggle for justice and equality is far from being finsished. The history of the African-American is not the typical history of the immigrant who gradually assimilated into the American way of life and gradually reached the American Dream, rather it is a dark history filled with inequity, oppression and the struggle to realize the American Dream. The United States of America, a nation founded on the principles of equality and freedom, ironically, was built with the blood, sweat, and tears of millions of Africans who were stolen from their homeland, stripped of their humanity and sold as slaves. Not surprisingly, Blacks were viewed as inferior to whites, regarded as less than human and treated worse than plantation pets. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries found Blacks subjected to inhumane punishments such as merciless whippings, beatings, and occasional lynchings. However, in the 1950’s and 1960's, many Blacks became tired of America's injustices and decided to do something to right the wrongs the experienced on a daily basis. An immediate effect of their determination was the Civil Rights Movement. The primary purpose of the Civil Rights Movement was to establish equal professional and educational opportunities, as well as legal rights, for Blacks and whites in America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X were two prominent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, who instilled a sense of religion, pride, and perseverance into the Black community. Through their tireless efforts, Dr. King and Malcolm X helped African-Americans acquire their "inalienable" rights originally promised to them in the 14th and 15th Amendments. In addition to securing rights promised to African-Americans in the Constitution, Dr. King moreso than Malcolm X, helped to transform the government’s inaction into action which resulted in Civil Rights legislation such as the Civil Rights Bill and Affirmative Action policies to ensure that African-American’s rights were not encroached on. Although the living conditions of African-Americans seem to have improved since the pre-Civil Rights Movement time period, conflicting statistics such as the numbers of middle class Blacks has steadily increased over the years and black males are overrepresented in prison populations reveals that there is an existing ambiguity concerning the true status and advancements of Blacks in America. To properly evaluate the progression of Blacks in America and the effects of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X's efforts during the Civil Rights Movement on today’s Black community, one should examine the matters of Black Nationalism and education as well as Affirmative Action and it’s effects. One should primarily consider these issues because Black pride and education are the essential elements of Black success in America and Affirmative Action effects the way Blacks are viewed in America and also contributes to their social and economic rise in society.

Before one can adequately examine the effects of Dr. King and Malcolm X's efforts on today's Black community, one must first understand the lives of each activist and their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. While many Americans are familiar with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, few people are familiar with the details of Dr. King's life and the events that persuaded him to become a Civil Rights activist. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929, to schoolteacher Alberta King and Baptist minister Michael Luther King (Timeline).

Picture 1: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preaches peaceful protests.

Because his father was a preacher, religion became a central idea in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, life, and after his junior year at Morehouse College, Dr. King decided "to become a minister and thereby serve society" (Online). In 1948, upon graduating from Morehouse College, Dr. King proceeded to acquire a B. D. from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania (Timeline). Subsequent to attaining his theological degree, Dr. King began preaching at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where he continued to preach for the remainder of his life. Upon completing college, Dr. King, like most African-Americans, walked directly into America's web of injustice; for during the 1960s, African-Americans, like flies, were fixed in a web of inequality and oppression of which they could not free themselves. Dr. King soon became tired of existing in an unjust society, and eventually, he decided to peacefully fight America's injustice. Dr. King, however, was not the only African-American frustrated with America’s discriminatory legislature. During the sixties, most of the Black populace used the Civil Rights Movement as a means of revolting against America’s injustice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, whose primary aim was to create a social order "permeated by love and spirituality of nonviolence as it grows from the Judeo-Christian religion" (Marsh, 235). Dr. King studied and preached many of Mahatma Gandhi's ideas, such as peaceful protests and boycotts, as means of persuading the America to abandon its discriminatory legislature. On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray, a white supremacist, assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Tennessee.

As a result of his numerous boycotts and peaceful protests, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., eventually achieved his objective of helping Blacks enhance their living conditions in America. Before the Civil Rights Movement, "segregation existed in every state in one way or another," but due to the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other Civil Rights activists, America abolished virtually all of its legislature, which enforced segregation (Civil Rights Movement). Furthermore, Dr. King, along with other activists, persuaded Congress to create the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited "racial discrimination in public places and called for equal opportunity in employment and education for African-Americans" (Civil Rights Movement). A year after the passing of this law, Dr. King once again compelled Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which rid states of "all laws prohibiting African-Americans from casting [their] vote in all public elections" (Civil Rights Movement). In addition to these works, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., also furthered the advancement of Black Nationalism and education. In a variety of his speeches and writings, including "I Have a Dream" and "The Negro is Your Brother," Dr. King promoted Black Nationalism and education as he told African-Americans to remain persistent in their struggle for equality. Dr. King understood the reality of the Black situation in America and he believed that Blacks could most effectively improve their status in America through education, unity, and, most importantly, religion.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., however, was not the only African-American, who desired to better the status and conditions of Blacks in America. Malcolm Little, later known, as Malcolm X, was another Black Civil Rights activist, who helped lead Blacks out of America's shadow of injustice.

Picture 2: Malcolm Little, later known as Malcolm X, promotes social equality through any means necessary.

Malcolm X was born into a lower-class family in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 19, 1925, and he later moved to Harlem, New York, where he lived for a great portion of his life. As an adolescent, Malcolm X became "a hustler, selling drugs and bringing [w]hites to prostitutes" in Harlem (Martin Luther King and Malcolm X). Actions such as these were merely the beginning of Malcolm X's criminal activities, and eventually, the police caught and convicted Malcolm X for burglary. While on trial, the jury "was more interested in [Malcolm X's] relation with [a] white woman [than] in the burglaries" (Martin Luther King and Malcolm X). Consequently, Malcolm X received ten years, instead of two years, for his criminal offense. As a result of this Black oppression, Malcolm X spent a great portion of his life hating white people. While in jail, Malcolm X became a faithful adherent of the Muslim faith and the Nation of Islam, a Black organization that despised white people. After serving his ten-year jail sentence, Malcolm X became a member, and prominent leader, of the Civil Rights Movement. During the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X persistently preached separatism and physical retaliation against white oppressors. During the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X believed that "whites were inherently the enemies of Negroes" and unless Blacks protected themselves, whites would continue to unmercifully kill Blacks (Goldman, 6). About one year prior to his assassination, however, Malcolm X altered his beliefs regarding whites, and he acknowledged the possibility of brotherhood between all races. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in Harlem, New York.

Although Malcolm X altered his opinions concerning whites, many of Malcolm X's ideas were vital to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X, unlike Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did not directly help to change America's discriminatory legislature; however, Malcolm X helped Blacks create their own identity. Malcolm X instilled ideas of Black Nationalism into the African-American community, which compelled Blacks to have pride in their Black culture and challenge America's notions of "equality." During the sixties, many people simply considered Malcolm X a radical Black activist, but in reality, Malcolm X was far greater than a radical. Malcolm X was an inspiration to a myriad of African-Americans, struggling to regain their “inalienable” rights. Most of Malcolm X's philosophies concerning Black Nationalism and unity are still pertinent to today's African-American community, for the Black struggle for equality is not yet complete, and in order for today's Black community to advance further in American society, they should incorporate some of Malcolm X's ideas into their beliefs.

Upon examining the works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and the conditions of the past, one may question the development or degeneration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X's notions of Black Nationalism and education in today's Black community. Additionally, one may also question the manner in which the progression or disintegration of these ideas have benefited or hindered today's Black community. Black Nationalism is the first, and perhaps most essential, concept that one should analyze in order to properly evaluate the progression of Blacks in America. Many people, Blacks and whites alike, often misinterpret the definition of this concept because they strictly relate Black Nationalism to Malcolm X's ideas of Black separatism and violence. One should actually define Black Nationalism, however, as an ideology whose primary tenets possess Black “political, economic, and cultural autonomy either within or from white" America (Brown and Shaw, 23). Underneath the primary subject of Black Nationalism, there also exist various subcategories, such as economic and community Black Nationalism. These two subcategories are fairly similar in that economic Black Nationalist contend that African-Americans should practice economic autonomy within their community, while community Black Nationalists argue that Blacks "should control and support communities and institutions where they predominate" (Dawson, 108). Although many people are familiar with most Black Nationalist ideas, such as these, few people are knowledgeable of the origins of Black Nationalism.

The notion of Black Nationalism is not a new concept to America, but instead, is a deep-rooted philosophy, which originated in America during the late eighteenth century. Many of the early Black Nationalists accentuated "the injustice and hypocrisy of the American political system [and] the brutality and viciousness of slavery" (Davis and Brown, 241). During the 1920's, however, Marcus Garvey altered the ideology of Black Nationalism, and offered an additional definition of the term. Marcus Garvey defined Black Nationalism as Black superiority. Throughout the years, several African-Americans leaders, such as Louis Farrakhan and Malcolm X, embraced Marcus Garvey's interpretation of Black Nationalism, but other African-American leaders, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., rejected this definition. Instead, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., identified Black Nationalism as the act of expressing pride in the African-American culture and heritage.

In today's society, there remains an existing debate regarding the advancement of Black Nationalism in America consequent to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X’s efforts in the Civil Rights Movement. While many African-Americans believe that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X's ideas concerning Black Nationalism remain prominent in today's Black community, others consider Black Nationalism a less pertinent issue in modern-day America than it was prior to the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, there was a vast division in American culture. Whites tended to purchase their goods from white owned stores, and Blacks tended to purchase their products from Black owned stores. Thus, by shopping at African-American stores and residing in almost entirely Black communities, many African-Americans, during the sixties, exhibited a degree of Black Nationalism through their "ethnic pride and awareness" (Henry, 450). Moreover, prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement, there were also several Black Nationalist organizations and leaders, such as the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam, and Louis Farrakhan, who continuously instilled Black Nationalist beliefs into the African-American populace. The Black Panthers, one of the most notorious Black organizations to emerge from the Civil Rights Movement, originated in Oakland, California, on August 9, 1966 (Hilliard). One of the primary goals of the Black Panther Party was to help African-Americans become more prominent figures in America, and through their militant protests, marches, and campaigns, the Black Panthers, as well as other Black Nationalist organizations, ultimately helped Blacks integrate into the American culture.

Picture 3: The Black Panther Party Emblem

As one evaluates Black Nationalism within today's Black community, one may notice that the magnitude of Black Nationalist ideas is quite similar to that during the sixties. Although many of the renowned Black Nationalist leaders are no longer alive, there remain numerous Black Nationalist organizations in America. Actually, there are more Black Nationalist factions and leaders in today’s Black community than there were in the sixties, but today’s Black Nationalist organizations and leaders seek less publicity than those of the earlier Black generations. Cornel West is an example a prominent African-American leader and Black Nationalist, who does not receive much publicity, but he remains a significant and influential Black leader. In addition to the increase of Black Nationalist leaders, such as Cornel West, there are also larger amounts of Black Nationalist organizations in modern-day America, for practically all of the Black Nationalist parties from the sixties, such as the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam, remain in existence. In addition to these parties, there are new Black Nationalist divisions, such as the New Black Panther Party. Moreover, a recent study shows that eighty-four percent of African-Americans purchase most of their goods from Black owned businesses, seventy percent of African-Americans believe that their children should study some type of African language, and nearly fifty-six percent of African-Americans participate in Black only organizations (Davis and Brown, 243). The study also depicts a sixteen percent increase in Black Nationalist supporters within the past few years (Davis and Brown, 243). These figures may seem stunning, but they are quite accurate. The primary reason that many people consider there to be a decline of Black Nationalism in today's society is because there are fewer fervent Black Nationalist leaders in contemporary society than there were in the 1960’s. Extensive studies show, however, that more Black Nationalist organizations, supporters, and partakers subsist in today's society than during the Civil Rights Movement. Thus, one may justifiably assert that Black Nationalism is a concept that continues to flourish in America, and although its presence is subtler, more African Americans endorse ideas of Black Nationalism in modem-day America than in the sixties.

In addition to Black Nationalism, one must also examine the advancement of African-American education prior to the Civil Rights Movement in order to correctly determine the progression of Blacks in America, because without some kind of education, it is quite difficult for Blacks to become financially successful. Education is the process of attaining knowledge concerning secular matters. Since the beginning of the United States, there has been a great difference between the merit of education that Blacks and whites have received. "Historically, Black children have experienced segregation and [w]hite resistance to quality education" (Byndloss, 84). Prior to the 1960's, many African-American "men and women expressed a strong desire to learn," but most Blacks did not have the same educational opportunities and resources as whites (Brown and Donahoo, 554). In 1954, however, the Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas deemed separate educational facilities unequal. Although the Supreme Court used this court trial as an attempt to integrate public schools, its efforts proved somewhat ineffective. Even though the court case eliminated legal segregation in public schools, many Blacks and whites chose to continue to live in segregated communities, which perpetuated school segregation and caused "Black schools [to remain] farther behind" white schools in funds and resources (Fleming, 598). In 1968, an African-American protest in Brooklyn "demonstrated for the first time an African-American mass movement of community members expressing concern about their children's academic rights" (Giddings, 464). Eventually protests, such as this protest in Brooklyn, helped Blacks attain nearly the same educational opportunities as whites and advance in America.

Before evaluating the progression of African-American education in America, one must first examine the conditions of Black education prior to and during the Civil Rights Movement. Prior to the sixties, the American government denied Blacks "the right to education . . . [and] access to conventional tools for self-definition" and higher learning, which consequently, placed a "glass ceiling" above the professional advancements of Blacks (Verharen, 318). In other words, regardless of the Black desire to become professionally successful, lack of education often prohibited African-Americans from doing so. Because white teachers often received a higher quality education than Black teachers, white students also received a higher quality education than Black students. As a result of Black children not receiving the same quality education as whites, most Americans "equated African Americans . . . with limited intelligence" (Meacham, 575). Black schools also did not have the same amount of technology as white schools because Black schools received less national funding than white schools.

In today's African-American community, however, studies show that there is a greater percentage of African-American students enrolled in secondary public schools than there were prior to the 1960's. Within the past decade, Blacks have also experienced "lower drop-out and suspension rates," which once more suggests that there are more Blacks in school today than during the 1960’s (Willie, 463). Many analysts link the increase of the African-American student population with the increase of Black parent involvement in secondary schools. Studies show that within the past five years, more Black parents have started reading to their children, helping their children with homework, and participating in school activities, thus encouraging African-American youths to become successful students (Desimone and Finn-Stevenson, 298). By increasing the desire of Black youths to become successful students, parents also subtly increases their children’s desire to become effective and successful American citizens, because "the classroom is more than an intellectual exercise [or] a tossing around of ideas for a debate" (Dlamini, 64). Through the development of organizational skills and work ethic, secondary schools prepare students for college and corporate America.

In addition to the increase of Black students in secondary schools, studies also show that there are currently more African-American students enrolled in college than there were two decades ago. While a multitude of African-Americans attend predominately white universities, most Blacks, especially in Southern states, choose to attend historically Black colleges for a variety of reasons. Generally, “African American students who attended integrated high schools ... [tend to enroll in] predominately white universities" (French and Seidman, 590). Regardless of the college that African Americans prefer to attend, the statistics concerning Black college enrollment remain the same. Upon examining the increase in the percentage of African-American grade school and college students, one may reasonably conclude that Blacks are progressing in the educational strata because more African-Americans have the opportunity to access the same educational resources as whites in today's society than during the Civil Rights Movement. Active efforts by college recruiters to recruit talented African-American grade school and high school students to selective college institutions and Affirmative Action policies that make college admission officers sensitive to race also contributes to African-Americans gaining access to the same educational resources as whites. Interestingly enough, Affirmative Action, a policy designed to help narrow the achievement gap between minorities and whites, threatens to undo some of the work of Dr. King and Malcolm and other Civil Rights workers.

One of the most controversial topics today in America, tends to polarize Blacks and Whites. Recent legislation involving Affirmative Action such has Prop. 54, always exposes the racial tension caused by Affirmative Action, usually revealing whites to be opposed to legislation strengthening Affirmative Action and Blacks in favor of it. Affirmative Action has recently come under scrutiny with the Supreme Court Cases dealing with the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions policies. The plaintiffs in these cases are claiming that the their Civil Rights are being violated because they are being discriminated against in favor of lesser qualified Blacks as a result of the University of Michigan’s allegeded quota system designed to obtain diversity by increasing the percentage of Black students at the school. Although the Supreme Court has not made a landmark decision with regards to Affirmative Action since Bakke vs. the Regents of the University of California, their decision on the legality of the University of Michigan’s admissions policy will be a major decision that will have a large impact on Black advancement and access to opportunities traditionally open only to whites. Ironically, a policy designed to give minorities equal access to the same opportunities as whites with the help of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King, has become an issue along racial lines that may reverse the strides he made for Blacks. Although abused in some cases and clear that the practice of Affirmative Action deviates from its intended practice and is therefore a problematic policy, it is still essential for selective schools to have an Affirmative Action policy to ensure that qualified Blacks are considered for admission and are able to receive their high quality of education so that their progress continues to steadily increase.

In order to understand the importance of Affirmative Action, one must consider it’s origins, it’s benefits, it’s weaknesses, and why it threatens to reverse the racial understanding developed between whites and Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement and the work of Civil Rights activists. Although no quick and easy solutions exist, it is clear from the bitter debate regarding Affirmative Action and its applications in college admissions that there is a strong need to reconsider it as a policy to create “equality of opportunity” between whites and blacks. Judging from the racially divisive nature of the debate, one may conclude that it may need to be restructured as a policy to yield better results and more importantly, one may conclude that there is a need for our country to engage in more discussion regarding race relations.

The concept of Affirmative Action came about in the early 1960s during the Civil Rights movement, a time when Blacks began to make their denial of their constitutional rights by whites known to the rest of the nation and demand not only an immediate end of their second-class citizenship, but also a demand for more rights that were promised to them under the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Because of the work of Civil Rights leaders like Dr. King, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Julian Bond, the government began to take notice and initiated the first steps to address the grievances of minorities and the gross inequalities the existed between Blacks and whites at the time. On March 6, 1961, newly elected President John F. Kennedy issued Executive Order 10925, which established the President’s Committee On Equal Employment Opportunity. The President’s Committee On Equal Employment Opportunity was created to end discrimination in government and government contractor employment based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In the Order, President Kennedy mandated that “The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin” (Kennedy (1)). This was the first time in the context of civil rights that the government used the term “affirmative action”, which referred to taking the necessary action to eliminate the then widespread discrimination based on race.

Not satisfied with the existing legislation regarding race relations and former President Kennedy’s unwillingness to challenge his racist Senate, Civil Rights leaders met with President President Lyndon B. Johnson regarding the plight of Blacks in America. The result of this meeting and pressures put on the government by Civil Rights leaders led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which reaffirmed the principles of President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925. Title VI, Sec. 601 mandated that “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (Title VI, Sec. 601). A year later in 1965 President Johnson delivered a commencement address at Howard University and acknowledged to anxious Black graduating students that impartial treatment was not enough to guarantee equality of opportunity between Blacks and whites. In his address, he showed that he had been listening to the cries of Blacks ready for change and implied that the government would be more proactive in ensuring parity among Blacks and whites. In his address he argued:

“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. […] We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result” (Johnson).

Shortly after his commencement address on September 24, 1965, he put his words and intentions into law and issued Executive Order 11246 which enforced the concept of affirmative action in the workplace. Section 101 of the Executive Order stated:

“It is the policy of the Government of the United States to provide equal opportunity in Federal employment for all qualified persons, to prohibit discrimination in employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin, and to promote the full realization of equal employment opportunity through a positive, continuing program in each executive department and agency” (Johnson 101).

This Executive Order essentially made Affirmative Action national policy that the government would be dedicated to enforcing.

As laws and Executive Orders were being passed during the 1960s and Black students were becoming more anxious, colleges began to make more of an effort to recruit Black students and racially diversify their populations. This new trend in actively pursuing Blacks was not only due to the government’s determination to rectify the inequalities betweens whites and Blacks, but was also due to the various student protests led by Civil Rights groups like Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) demanding more access to predominantly white colleges. As a result, university officials created programs to actively recruit Black applicants and consider race in their admissions process by admitting qualified Blacks, even if they had lower grades and test scores than their white counterparts. Schools justified their actions by revealing their desire to correct past discrimination against Blacks. Unfortunately, it was precisely this reasoning that eventually contributed to the bitter debate regarding Affirmative Action, the discrediting of Blacks’ qualifications and led to court cases attempting to decide the proper application of Affirmative Action. Most colleges however, had different motivations for actively pursuing Black applicants. “[T]hey sought to enrich the education of all their students by including race as a another element in assembling a diverse student body of varying talents, backgrounds, and perspectives” and “[i]n addition, perceiving a widely recognized need for more members of minority groups in business, government, and the professions, they acted on the conviction that minority students would have a special opportunity to become leaders in all walks of life” (Bowen and Bok 7). For example, in 1965 Harvard Law School dean Erwin Griswold launched a special summer program for Black juniors studying at historically Black colleges to persuade them in enrolling in law school. His effort was due to the fact that “barely 1 percent of all law students in America were Black, and over one-third of them were enrolled in all-Black schools” (Bowen and Bok 7). Not surprisingly, this trend in admitting more Black students had negative consequences.

As more and more Black students were enrolled into universities across the country, white enrollment slightly decreased. This trend led to increased racial tensions and the polarization of Blacks and whites on this policy. The concept of Affirmative Action in college admissions was challenged in the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke Supreme Court case. In this case, Allan Bakke, who was denied admission to UC Davis‘ medical school twice despite earning better grades and test scores than successful Black applicants, claimed that he was a victim of “reverse discrimination”. On June 28, 1978 , the Supreme Court issued its decision regarding the case. The Court’s decision was split with four justices finding that the system of racial quotas used by the medical school were discriminatory and violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and four Justices agreeing with the admissions procedure as a legitimate device in overcoming past discrimination.

In the court’s decision, Justice Powell, who wrote the decision, wrote:

“Racial and ethnic classifications of any sort are inherently suspect and call for the most exacting judicial scrutiny. While the goal of achieving a diverse student body is sufficiently compelling to justify consideration of race in admissions decisions under some circumstances, petitioner's special admissions program, which forecloses consideration to persons like respondent, is unnecessary to the achievement of this compelling goal, and therefore invalid under the Equal Protection Clause” (287-320).

In other words, Justice Powell acknowledged that special admissions programs that discriminated against people because of their race violated the Equal Protection Clause but argued that taking race into consideration in university admissions was needed to overcome past discriminations. As a result, Allen Bakke lost his case and the Court’s decision led to a broad interpretation and application of Affirmative Action by universities. This decision allowed universities to practice Affirmative Action at their own discretion and consequently contributed to the heightened racial tensions between whites and Blacks. Because of this broad decision, Affirmative Action has become abused by some schools, caused the qualifications and credibility of Blacks to be questioned by whites, and has become a heated topic that has left a bitter taste in the mouths of both Blacks and whites.

Affirmative Action applied to college admissions, practiced correctly produces many benefits for people of all races. In addition to increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of colleges, it helps to develop students into more well rounded adults, produce more educated Blacks that are qualified for highly specialized jobs, and more importantly it leads to the eventual phasing out of Affirmative Action as a remedy to the disparity in opportunity between Blacks and whites. In other words, Affirmative Action will eventually phase itself out and allow Dr. King’s dream to be realized.

Majority of the proponents of Affirmative Action in college admissions argue that it provides more diversity in universities. In order to understand the perspective of these supporters of Affirmative Action, one must understand what is meant by diversity. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English defines diversity as the state of being varied and a range of different things. To have a better grasp of what diversity is in the context of college, consider Jeffery F. Milem’s definition drawn from the work of Gurin and Chang:

Structural diversity refers to the numerical and proportional representation of students from different racial/ethnic groups in the student body (Hurtado et al. 1998, 1999) […] diversity-related initiatives (i.e. cultural awareness workshops, ethnic studies courses, and so forth) that occur on college and university campuses. Although demographic shifts or changes in the structural diversity of campuses frequently provide the stimulus for diversity-related initiatives (Chang 1999b), some colleges and universities incorporate these types of initiatives even though their campuses are racially and ethnically homogeneous. […] diverse interactions, is characterized by students’ exchanges with racially and ethnically diverse people as well as diverse ideas, information , and experiences. People are influenced by their interactions with diverse ideas and information as well as diverse people” (Milem 132).

Keeping these definitions of diversity in mind, the benefits of diversity are clearer. When people are thrust into environments made up of various kinds of people from dissimilar backgrounds, they are forced to interact with others that are different from them and learn about other cultures if they are to be successful in their new environment. This exchange between various cultures results in some of the individuals’ racial biases being broken down and a healthy discussion of racial issues. This results in the formation of new perspectives between the individuals and contributes to them growing into well-rounded adults with a more mature view on life. Gurin concurs when she “argues that […] diversity, broadly defined, can facilitate […] better preparation for the many challenges they will face as involved citizens in a democratic, multiracial society” (qtd. in Milem 134). It is also argued that diversity stimulates college students’ thinking:

“Students who interact with others from diverse backgrounds show greater relative gains in critical thinking and active thinking. Pascarella, Whitt, et al. (1996) reports that students who participated in racial and cultural awareness workshops showed measurable gains at the end of their first year of college in what researchers argue are critical thinking skill” (Milem 137).

This argument is logical because people are forced to think differently and be more creative when exposed to new ideas and people. This is especially evident in tense situations where one has to work with people they have nothing in common with. In a situation like the one mentioned earlier, one has to be creative in order to come up with a solution and overcome their differences. Colleges with diverse populations provide perfect practice for these kinds of situations and prepare an individual for real world situations as a result. If one were to attend a college made up of people similar to them, they would not be able to gain the experience needed to deal with people different from them and would lose out on the opportunity to gain new ideas and different ways of looking at things, learned only from dealing with a diverse mix of people.

In addition to diversifying university populations, Affirmative Action contributes to the education of more Blacks, which leads to the increase in the number of qualified Blacks for specialized jobs, and the realization of self autonomy faught for by activists such as Malcolm X. “From 1960 to 1995, the percentage of Blacks aged 25 to 29 who had graduated from college rose from 5.4 to 15.4 percent. […] These trends have led to striking gains in the representation of minorities in the most lucrative and influential occupations (Bowen and Bok 9-10). If the number of Black graduates continues to grow, eventually Affirmative Action will no longer be needed since Blacks will be as prepared as whites for competitive jobs which will not only lead to the breaking down of the stereotype that Blacks are inferior to whites, but also the realization of equality of opportunity asked for in Dr. King’s dream. Justice Blackmun said it best when he wrote in his opinion regarding the Regents v. Bakke Supreme Court case; “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race.” (Bowen and Bok 8)

Affirmative Action in college admissions is only an issue when it comes to selective institutions, such as Stanford and Harvard who receive more applications than they can admit. Bowen and Bok in their book, Shape of the River, estimate that “only about 20 to 30 percent of all four-year colleges and universities” have enough applicants to be selective about who is admitted to their schools (Bowen and Bok 15). It is not surprising why the debate regarding the legitimacy of Affirmative Action is so bitter; given the high competition to get into these schools, the slightest possibility that a select few are receiving preferential treatment over others is going to incite the anger of many people. Because of the above possibility, whites are adamantly opposed to Affirmative Action in any shape or form. Although whites are generally for the concept of equality of opportunity, when Affirmative Action is offered as a tool to guarantee that this occurs, whites let their strong disapproval of it be known. Although it is common knowledge that whites that have felt discriminated against due to Affirmation Action are opposed to it’s use, it may not be well known that some Blacks are just as opposed to it’s practice.

As a University of California Regent, Wardell Connerly has witnessed abuses in the application of Affirmative Action by the University of California (UC) system. Martin Trow in his essay Preferential Admissions in Higher Education, writes a brief history about the admissions procedures at the University of California and highlights their previously questionable policies to diversify their campuses:

“In the 1980s and early 1990s, a number of the UC’s eight “general campuses” found that they had more, and in some cases many more, eligible applicants than they could admit. […] With the approval of the Regents, Berkeley decided to admit half the entering class on the basis of their scores on the combined SAT/GPA. In filling the other half, all eligible minority applicants were automatically admitted. […] in 1989 it abandoned the guarantee of admission for all eligible applicants from minority groups. Yet it continued t give a huge advantage to Black and Hispanic applicants” (295).

As a result, it is no surprise that despite being Black and possibly being a beneficiary of Affirmative Action, that he would adamantly be opposed to its practice. Throughout his essay One Nation Indivisible he questions the merits of Affirmative Action and compares it to a “system of preferences and de facto quotas” (Connerly 416). In his opinion, Affirmative Action reduces itself to two fundamental questions:

“First, are white males entitled to the same assertion of civil rights and equal treatment under the law as women and minorities? Second how much longer is the nation going to maintain polices that presume that American born Black people are mentally inferior and incapable of competing head-to-head with other people, except in athletics and entertainment” (Connerly 418)?

Connerly’s two questions suggest that Affirmative Action discriminates against whites and that the system presumes Blacks to be inferior. In some cases, such as when the University of California at Berkeley admitted every minority that satisfied the minimum eligibility requirements and denied qualified whites admission into the university, his argument was valid. But when one examines the most selective institutions admissions policies, such as Cornell’s or Stanford’s, this is not the case. Prior to filing a joint amicus brief with IBM, National Academy of Sciences, DuPont, MIT, the National Academy of Engineers, and others dedicated to racial and cultural diversity in higher education, as a friend of the court in the University of Michigan cases, John L. Hennessy, who is the current President of Stanford University, wrote a statement to the Stanford Faculty Senate regarding Stanford’s commitment to diversity:

“Selecting students for admission to a university such as Stanford is an incredibly difficult and intricate process. A wide range of considerations is taken into account, but academic performance and intellectual potential will always top that list. […] the consideration of race and ethnicity as one factor among many in that admission process is consistent with our history as an institution […]”.

Similar to the manner in which schools take into account whether or not a prospective student is an athlete, has special music ability, or is dedicated to their community; race is taken to account under the same conditions. No single factor exists that gives one person a distinct advantage over another person. As a result, it is nearly impossible for whites, and moreover people of other races, to be discriminated against under such polices. Stanford’s, as well as several other colleges’, commitment to academic excellence discounts Connerly’s idea that Affirmative Action presupposes Blacks to be inferior. According to Bowen and Bok’s, two former Ivy League Presidents, extensive research on college admissions:

“The most fundamental objective is to be sure that the qualifications of all admitted students are above a high academic threshold. Admissions officers seek to offer places in the class only to those applicants whom they deem intellectually (and otherwise) capable of completing the academic program successfully and benefiting from the experience” (23).

Since “academic achievement and intellectual potential” are considered before race, those minorities that the universities give special consideration to, and possibly accept, are just as qualified as the white applicants. Therefore, when practiced correctly, the application of Affirmative Action does not presume that Blacks are inferior to whites like Connerly argues, instead, it makes admissions officers more aware of the fact that there are in fact qualified minorities that may contribute to the intellectual and political development of their campus.

Hoover Institute Fellow Shelby Steele is another Black scholar, who opposes Affirmative Action. In addition to comparing it to a program of racial preferences like Connerly and believing that it distills a sense of inferiority upon Blacks, he feels that diversity is not a sufficient reason to utilize Affirmative Action. In his book, Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, he argues:

Diversity is a term that applies democratic principles to races and cultures rather than to citizens, despite the fact there is nothing to indicate that real diversity is the same thing as proportionate representation. Too often the result of this on campuses (for example) has been a democracy of colors rather than of people, an artificial diversity that gives an education parity between Black and white students that has not been achieved in reality. […] only 26 percent of Black students graduate from college” (Steele115 - 116).

Steele believes that Affirmative Action is a type of handout given to Blacks in an attempt to suppress the guilt that many whites possess as a result of the injustices committed against Blacks. He believes that the disparity that exists between Blacks and whites that are covered up when Blacks are admitted to schools under Affirmative Action. If one were to examine the Average SAT scores of minorities versus those of whites, or even, if one were to scrutinize the probability of admission between Blacks and whites given their SAT scores at selective institutions, one would be inclined to conclude that on average, Blacks are not as qualified as whites and are given an unfair advantage over whites.

Figure 1: Mean SAT Scores of Matriculates at Four Selective Institutions, by race, 1951, 1976, and 1989

(Duplicated and qtd from Shape of a Rive. Original Source: College and Beyond.

Note: Data by race not available for 1951)

Figure 2: Probability of Admission to Five selective Institutions by Combined SA Score and Race, 1989

(Duplicated and qtd from Shape of a River. Original Source: Admissions data provided by five College and Beyond Institutions)

Given the fact that a majority of selective college populations are made up of mostly whites, it is almost not possible to conclude that whites are discriminated against under admissions policies which take race into consideration. Despite the fact that disparity exists among whites and Blacks nationally, Figure 3 illustrates that the parity between Blacks and whites in selective colleges is gradually decreasing.

Six-Year Graduation Rates*




Highly Selective


Moderately Selective

Less Selective

All Institutions









Hispanic (Stanford/

Mexican American)
















Native American
















*The national data was collected by the Consortium for Student Retention Data exchange (“CSRDE”). CSRDE was established in 1994 and has a current membership of 420 public and private colleges and universities from the USA, Canada and Ireland.

Figure 3: Six-Year Graduation Rates

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