MIAMI, May 3 (UPI) -- The alliterative combination of words, "affirmative action," first surfaced March 6, 1961, in an executive order by President John F. Kennedy.
The order required companies seeking government contracts to take affirmative action to treat their employees equally.
It appeared next in a speech by President Lyndon Johnson on July 2, 1964, defining the concept, and again that September in an executive order enforcing affirmative action for the first time.
Now, you hear it almost every other day as the nation awaits a decision by the Supreme Court on a University of Michigan case.
The ruling will determine whether the university can constitutionally favor minority groups in its admission policy if it doesn't specifically use quotas.
The ruling could have an impact on most universities and colleges in the country, and in the private sector. Johnson seemed to foresee what was to come.
"This is the next and more profound stage of the battle for civil rights," Johnson said. "We seek ... not just equality as a right and a theory, but equality as a fact and as a result."
Johnson's order was the official beginning of the saga. When he issued it, Jim Crow laws still existed and there were still reports of lynchings. The Rev. Martin Luther King fought against segregation and discrimination right up until the time of his death in 1968.
Johnson's order came in the same year as the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The order was expanded by President Richard Nixon in 1969, and the Civil Rights Act was amended in 1972, requiring educational institutions and government to seek more minorities.
It wasn't long after that reverse discrimination became an issue.
Allan Bakke, a white male, was rejected twice by the University of California at Davis. Bakke said the school had accepted less qualified minorities, and he appeared to be right.
The school had reserved 16 out of 100 places exclusively for minority students.
Bakke sued, and the Supreme Court, in a 1978 decision written by Justice Lewis Powell, outlawed inflexible quota systems. But the court also upheld other methods of affirmative action.
The University of Michigan, which gives minorities 20 free points for admission on a 150-point scale, would qualify under that ruling in many courts.
Along the way, however, bitter opposition to affirmative action continued to build.
Conservatives said affirmative action shut the door on whites, while it opened it for minorities, giving them education, jobs and promotions.
They referred scornfully to "preferential treatment" and quotas. They asked why other minority groups such as Jews and Asians made the American system work for them while African-Americans could not.
Liberals countered that the land of opportunity was a different place for blacks who arrived in the chains of slavery than it was for European immigrants.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, points out there is an unbalanced history in this country of 40 years of affirmative action, 100 years of segregation and 200 years of slavery.
Liberals also point out that there is concern that because of affirmative action, minorities were threatening the jobs of whites, but the reality is that whites are still at the top of the food chain when it comes to jobs, promotions and prestige.
In July 1995, a black University of California regent named Ward Connerly stepped onto the stage. He convinced the other members of the University of California Board of Regents to end the system's affirmative action program. At about the same time, he decided the campaign for California Civil Rights Initiative, known as proposition 209, was in jeopardy, and took it over.
It ended affirmative action in California's workplaces by a vote of 55-45 percent.
In 1998, Proposition 200 eliminated affirmative action in the state of Washington.
Connerly campaigned in other states, and when he came to Florida in 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush, fearing a divisive battle to alter the state's constitution, replaced the state's affirmative action program with what he called the Talented 20.
Under that plan, the top 20 percent of the graduating class in each high school graduating class will be admitted to college. The plan was patterned after the Texas plan, which admits the top 10 percent, installed while Bush's older brother, President Bush, was governor of the Lone Star State.
The Texas initiative was the result of the 1996 Hopwood decision against admissions policies at the University of Texas.
California adopted a similar plan, covering the top 4 percent, after affirmative action was banned there.
Another alternative is the "whole file review" used by Harvard University and other institutions with the money and the manpower to spend a lot of time with each student's application.
But Harvard's black and Hispanic enrollment percentage is still well below percentages of the nation as a whole.
So affirmative action and the fight against it go on, and it is not likely to end with this year's Supreme Court decision. The fight, at least, always seems to find a way to stay alive.
(Part three of four. Next: The alternatives)
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