Segregation and the Civil Rights Movement

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What problems remain, if any today, from the Civil Rights Movement? 

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As expressed in his "I Have a Dream" speech Martin Luther King's wish was for equal opportunity to people no matter their color. In order to effect this "equal" opportunity, the federal government first effected hiring quotas in the mid-1970s and Affirmative Action later on.  Problems have arisen from some of the standards of Affirmative Action.  For instance, in the case of a young Caucasian woman with a GPA of 3.81 who wished to enter law school in Michigan, after scoring higher than many minorities on the LSAT test [the law school admissions test--she scored 161] and being refused entry, she felt that she was discriminated for a number of reasons, including the fact that minorities received something like 40 extra points on the exam; moreover, minorities were admitted with lower scores than her.  Her lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court:  Barbara Grutter v. Lee Bolling [pres. of U. of Michigan]

The defense argued that the Fourteenth Amendment was violated; however, the court ruled in favor of the University of Michigan.  Those who dissented argued that the university was imposing a quota system, which had been ruled unconstitutional in a previous case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas [who is an African-American], dissented, arguing that the University's "plus" system was, in fact, a thinly veiled and unconstitutional quota system. Chief Justice Rehnquist cited the fact that the percentage of African American applicants closely mirrored the percentage of African American applicants that were accepted.

There have been many other cases that have gone to the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, despite rulings in favor of providing opportunities to minorities, especially in federal government jobs, there remains the issue of poverty and underachievement regarding King's dream for his people.

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There are many problems left over from the Civil Rights Movement.  Some are connected to the rights phase of the movement while others have more to do with the later, economic justice part of the movement.

In terms of rights, the major problems that are left over have to do with affirmative action and with voting.  Affirmative action continues to be put forth as an antidote to past discrimination but is very controversial because many people see it as “reverse discrimination.”  Voting rights are an issue today because Republicans tend to want to implement voter ID requirements which many African Americans see as an attempt to suppress their vote.

The bigger, more pervasive problems have to do with the things that Martin Luther King was working on before his death.  At the time he died, King’s main focus was on economic issues.  He worked on things like wages and working conditions for garbage workers.  Today, African Americans continue to have much less in the way of economic opportunities than whites do.  Many more of them are poor and are likely to stay poor.  This would have been something that King would have seen as a huge problem.

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