The concept of affirmative action goes back a long way, but it hasn’t always been about racial equality. The discussion has historically been quite heated, on both sides. Proponents and opponents alike come from various backgrounds and ethnicity. Episode 74 of Flash Pasts has Danny and Lyle discussing the history and modern impacts of affirmative action on society. Have a listen.
The term affirmative action was first used in the National Labor Relations Act, better known as the Wagner Act of 1935. The purpose of the Wagner Act was to protect workers and unions…as long as they were white guys.
In order to help solidify America’s economy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) came up with the New Deal which stated “no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color or creed.” The Secretary of the Interior, however, led the real beginning of what we now know as affirmative action. Harold L. Ickes prohibited discrimination when hiring for public works administration funded projects. He also oversaw a quota system which required contractors to employ a fixed percentage of black workers.
In February of 1948, President Harry Truman delivered a message to Congress saying, “If we wish to inspire the peoples of the world whose freedom is in jeopardy, if we wish to restore hope to those who have already lost their civil liberties, if we wish to fulfill the promise that is ours, we must correct the remaining imperfections in our practice of democracy.”
In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. He was of the opinion that hiring practices and anti-discrimination laws should be decided by the states. He did, however, continue desegregation in the armed forces and throughout the federal government.
John F. Kennedy, in 1960, chastised President Eisenhower for not ending discrimination in federally supported housing and pushed for a permanent Fair Employment Practices commission. His executive order 10925 provided that “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.” This was the first time the term “affirmative action” was used by the federal government concerning race.
Links and articles on modern affirmative action discussion: