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Cities: Macon

The NAACP and the Bibb County Commissioners

In this WSB clip filmed on July 21, 1971, the Bibb Board of County Commissioners and a special committee of the NAACP meet to discuss affirmative action and the civil rights of Macon’s black citizens. The Reverend Julius C. Hope and J. L. Key, presidents of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP and the Macon NAACP, respectively, co-direct this special committee. One of six scheduled meetings with community leaders, the NAACP had continually requested equal opportunities for African Americans in employment. The group gathered to put pressure on Augusta's ruling bodies to ensure the enforcement of affirmative action legislation.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson first used the expression “affirmative action” in 1961 with Executive Order 10925, then in his 1965 with Executive Order 11246. Affirmative action programs intended to redress past and present discrimination against women and minorities by mandating that public and private employers and educational institutions provide equal opportunities to members of these groups. 

The Executive Orders required federal contractors to guarantee the fair treatment of all of their employees and applicants regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Although all American women benefited from affirmative action, according to research published in 2001 by the Association for White Anti-Racist Education, during the 1990s white women benefited the most.   

Meeting participants developed an action plan for the city to increase the employment of African Americans in higher paying jobs outside of service industries. Their plan contained five components and called for an employment pool for black citizens, the circulation of employment information among Macon's black community, notification of job referrals to the NAACP, the establishment of a National Urban League, and enhanced communication between employers and African American job applicants.

Affirmative action demonstrates one of the major concrete policy outcomes of the Civil Rights Movement, yet it ironically raised questions about the treatment of whites in light of gains for minorities and women. Affirmative Action became a controversial policy that was much debated in the courts.  The landmark Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) case tested the constitutionality of affirmative action in giving an advantage to minorities. This occurred when Allan Bakke, a white male applicant, was denied admission to The University of California-Davis Medical School, despite having an overall higher score than most minority applicants who were accepted.  The court decided that race could be used in admission decisions but that it should only be one of many factors.  The decision in this case marked the beginning of the decline of affirmative action and Allan Bakke was admitted to the medical school. 

The Macon NAACP’s struggle involving affirmative action occurred six years after President Johnson issued his Executive Orders, and similar debates about the policy occurred around the country.  To some Americans, affirmative action is a negative policy that gives advantages to minorities and women while taking away privileges from white males.  In reality, affirmative action was a measure taken to even the playing field and make up for the past and present unjust treatment of minorities and women, not to remove opportunities from white males.  Affirmative action practices have waned, but to some people their presence is still needed.

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Discussion Questions

1. Why did the NAACP choose to use the courts and the legal system in order to create social change?  Do you think this strategy was advantageous? Why or why not? In what ways did the Macon NAACP incorporate this strategy?

2. Forty years after the Civil Rights Movement, do you think that affirmative action is still necessary to address social inequalities between whites and people of color?  Do you think affirmative action was ever necessary?

3. How has affirmative action affected the lives of women since the 1960s?  Has it been easier or more difficult for women to achieve equality in the workplace since President Johnson instituted affirmative action?

4. Research the impact of affirmative action on college campuses in the United States.  How has the rollback of affirmative action affected student and faculty diversity on college campuses?  What alternative strategies have universities and colleges instituted to maintain diversity without affirmative action policies?

Take it to the Streets!

Affirmative action was but one of numerous policies, bills, and acts that came out of President Johnson's vision for the Great Society, which focused on creating programs and opportunities in order to eradicate poverty, to protect consumers from fraud, to improve public school education and offer wider access to higher education, and to beautify the country and conserve its natural resources.  Johnson meant to follow up on the changes in society that President John F. Kennedy had able to launch before his assassination on November 22, 1963.  Research one of the following Great Society initiatives with a team of students in your class, then give a fifteen- or twenty-minute oral presentation on why and how the law or program was enacted, what groups it targeted, and how it reflects and/or moves beyond the goals and ideas of the Civil Rights Movement:

1961: The Peace Corps
1964: Wilderness Preservation Act
1965: Head Start Program
1966: National School Lunch Act
1968: Bilingual Education Act
1970: Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act

Writer: Stacie L. Walker
Researchers: Stacie Walker and Professor Barbara McCaskill
Editor: Professor Barbara McCaskill
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