Race and College Admissions: Desegregation and Affirmative Action

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will determine the fate of affirmative action in college admissions, as the justices will deliver their opinion in Fisher v. University of Texas. Most Americans think of affirmative action as a post-Civil Rights Era phenomenon, but race has long played a role in college admissions.

Fifty years ago today, Alabama Governor George Wallace made his final stand for segregation at the University of Alabama. With the National Guard at the door, Governor Wallace proclaimed, "The unwelcome, unwanted, unwarranted and force-induced intrusion upon the campus of the University of Alabama -- Today the might of the central government offers frightful example of the oppression of the rights, privileges and sovereignty of this state." 

Governor Wallace then stepped aside and finally allowed James Hood and Vivian Malone Jones to enroll at the state university.

That evening, in a landmark speech, President Kennedy explained his decision to send National Guard troops to forcibly desegregate the university.

"Following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court," President Kennedy told the American people. "That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified, young Alabama residents who happen to have been born Negro."

The President called on Congress to pass comprehensive civil rights legislation. "I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law." He focused specifically on education, stating that, "Too many Negro children entering segregated grade schools at the time of the Supreme Court's decision 9 years ago will enter segregated high schools this fall, having suffered a loss which can never be restored."

Arthur Dunning enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1966, just three years after James Hood and Vivian Malone. As one of the very few African-American students on campus, Dunning encountered intense racism, but still helped desegregate the football team. Dunning eventually earned his PhD and now teaches at the university. 


Arthur Dunning

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger

Comments [2]

Tom from Berkeley

pblack02, what do you mean one generation? AA has been around for over fifty years. We have an African-American president who most certainly benefited from AA. Where did he and his wife attend school? Private schools: Occidental, Columbia, Princeton, and both attended Harvard. Can you honestly tell me that their children deserve a bump over a poor asian kid simply because of the color of their skin? That's a terrible precedent to set. Of course no one wants AA for athletics, because, the best man/woman should clearly get the roster spot. Why should academics be any different? You can't have it both ways.

There's currently more impoverished white kids compared to blacks, hispanics, and native americans combined. These kids aren't responsible for slavery, jim crow, or segregation. Discrimination is discrimination any way you want to cut it. No one applying to college has been oppressed. ANYONE of ANY race can get a 4.0 or become a professional athlete. Anyone can become POTUS. SCOTUS? You bet. The only way to stop racism is to measure on every factor BESIDES race. You'd think anyone with half a brain would understand that but I guess not.

Jun. 13 2013 07:01 AM
pblack02 from Rochester, Michigan

One generation of just allowing participation doesn't fix centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, segration, and discrimination. We all wish that it were not the case, however, It really is too soon to stop affirmative action. The affects are still in the fledgling stage, not a full recovery by any means.

Jun. 11 2013 10:03 AM

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