The History of Diversity in America Known as the Melting Pot, America is a country with a more diverse population than any other. But America also has a long, painful past of discrimination that has been based on sex, race, color, disability, religion, sexual orientation and various other characteristics that stray from the average white American citizen. Through the years, government has played a major role in trying to correct the past wrongs due to discrimination by enacting legislation and adding amendments to the Constitution.
The primary purpose of these measures is to enforce non-discriminating employment practices and to encourage, and sometimes force, companies to increase their representation of women and minority group members in the workplace. This move toward equal opportunity has come about through numerous measures enacted throughout our history. A few of those policies, such as Affirmative Action, contain very controversial issues that many employers hope to see changed, or done away wi! th all together.
For the present time, however, the trend continues in most every state and is enforced by law. The effects of diversity on our nation can be traced back to the civil war period. This period of upheaval is a perfect example of the struggle many Americans went through to free black slaves. The blacks were made slaves in the states for a number of reasons. The blacks were a representation of difference, therefore the whites viewed them as being unequal. We also seem to fear that which is different, so we try to keep them down.
The blacks represented such a small percentage of the population that it was easy for the white slave owners to control them. The diversity issue among the blacks and whites created a civil war within our nation that pitted friends and family against one another, and our whole nation was in turmoil. Many lives were lost fighting for the freedom of the slaves. On September 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery and declared all slaves free by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation (the thirteenth amendment to our constitution).
An excerpt from the proclamation follows: . . . That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty three, all persons held as slaves within any state or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever, free; . . . (Sandburg, 17) Soon after the issuance of the amendment, various states enacted black codes that limited the newly enacted civil rights of the freed slaves.
In 1868, the fourteenth amendment was passed to counter the black codes to ensure that no state could make, or enforce, a law which served to take civil rights away from any person (FindLaw). But discrimination wasnt only geared towards blacks. Any person who was not your average able, white male was discriminated against. Females, the disabled, the aged, and all other groups not fitting the norm were the targets both in and out of the workplace. The reasons for the discrimination ranged from their color, weight, religion, ethnic background, sex, culture, etc.
A memorable incident that is seared in the minds of many Americans took place on December 1, 1955. Rosa Parks, a nineteen-year-old black women, took a seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus lines on her way home from work. The bus lines were segregated, therefore the blacks had to sit in the back behind the section labeled for whites only. When Rosa was told to give up her seat for a white man, and move further to the back, she refused. She was not only tired from working all day, but tired of the way she was treated.
Before the incident was over Rosa Parks was arrested. The public was outraged and precipitated the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. City buses would no longer be ridden by black Americans, which constituted 70 percent of the riders. The boycott continued for 381 days, until December 20, 1956, when the U. S. Supreme Court upheld a lower courts decision declaring Montgomerys segregated seating unconstitutional. This incident seemed to be the spark t! hat ignited the U. S. civil rights movement.
This was also the time in which Martin Luther King, Jr. , a pastor, first came to National prominence. He was a powerful speaker, and later, catapulted to the forefront in an effort to gain civil rights for Black Americans. Another landmark case to end segregation came with Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. This case argued that the policy established by the 1896 Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling was unconstitutional. All nine judges agreed, and ordered the immediate desegregation of public schools.
In protection of the nine black students trying to gain admission to the Little Rock High School, President Eisenhower had to federalize the Arkansas National Guard and send one thousand paratroopers, from the 101st Airborne platoon. Many schools simply chose to close their doors rather than integrate. The changes were slow in coming. (The Hall of Public Service, 2). One of the prominent changes that occurred was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was a huge step towards greater civil rights legislation and a major step toward equality for all.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was developed to deter the actions of individuals who were in violation of the civil rights of other Americans. Congress was able to pass this act due to their power to regulate interstate commerce. The original act prohibited discrimination based on race, color, religion, or national origin in public establishments connected to interstate commerce or supported by the state. These public establishments were defined as places of public accommodation (hotels, motels, trailer parks, etc. ), restaurants, gas stations, bars, taverns and places of entertainment.
This act was also detrimental in aiding desegregation due to its inclusion of a strong legislative policy that dealt with discrimination in colleges and public schools. Still yet, another victory was awarded un! der Title VI of the civil rights act, which prohibited discrimination in federally funded programs (Civil Rights Act of 1964). The keystone federal legislation regarding equal employment opportunity came with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act eventually led to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Title VII was crucial in the battle to enlist nondiscriminatory practices in organizations. It prevented employers, labor unions, employment agencies and other labor and employment related organizations, that were engaged in interstate commerce, from discriminating against a person based on their color, race, religion, sex or national origin in employment and training practices. It became the job of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to administer the act and play watchdog on those organizations covered by the act, to ensure they dont engage in any unlawful employment practices.
This was still not enough to gain rights for certain individuals. (Civil Right Act of 1964). In 1961, President Kennedy issued an executive order requiring businesses, with U. S. government contracts, to treat employees without regard to race, ethnic origin, religion, or sex. Kennedy was the first to relate to this procedure as Affirmative Action (Campbell, 135). This course of action has grown into a profound and widespread practice through bureaucratic action, court order, and the acceptance of business and government alike (Krauthammer, 94).
The Equal Opportunity Act of 1972, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, included a broader array of organizations subject to Title VII. The organizations currently covered under Title VII are: all private employers of 15 or more people employed 20 or more weeks out of the year, all public and private educational institutions, state and local governments, public and private employment agencies, labor unions with 15 or more members, or that operate a hiring hall or office, and joint labor-management committees for apprenticeships and training (Equal Opportunity Act of 1972).
This act was also detrimental in helping another minority group obtain greater rights, that of females. In 1972, congress proposed the Equal Rights Amendment (written in 1921 by suffragist Alice Paul) to provide an express constitutional provision prohibiting the denial of equality of rights on account of sex. For women, whom have struggled for equality for years, this was to be a great milestone. Unfortunately, this amendment was not adopted due to the lack of support.
Ratification of an amendment requires three fourths of the state legislatures support (38 states) within the original or an extended ratification period, but only 35 states ratified the amendment (N. O. W. ). Affirmative action has barely had time to affect a single generation, but its effects have been widespread and have had a major impact on America. Affirmative action refers to the encouragement of increased representation of women and minority group-members, especially in the employment setting. The way in which representation is achieved is open to the discretion of each organization.
Over the last couple of decades, affirmative action plans have involved preferential treatment towards women and especially minority groups. This preferential treatment has been dubbed Reverse Discrimination by many that believe that the majority groups are being adversely affected by these practices. This issue was first recognized as a reality soon after the ruling in a landmark Supreme Court case dealing with affirmative action plans. In 1968, due to a lack of minority representation, the University of California at Davis developed a special admissions program in an effort to incre! ase minority representation.