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“We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us!” Malcolm X’s observation is brought out by the facts of American History. Snatched from their native land, transported thousands of miles – in a nightmare of disease and death – and sold into slavery, blacks were reduced to the legal status of farm animals. Even after emancipation, blacks were segregated from whites – in some states by law, and by social practice almost everywhere. American apartheid continued for another century. In 1954 the Supreme Court declared state-compelled segregation in schools unconstitutional, and it followed up that decision with others that struck down many forms of official segregation. Still, discrimination survived, and in most southern states blacks were either discouraged or prohibited from exercising their right to vote. Not until the 1960’s was compulsory segregation finally and effectively challenged. Between 1964 and 1968 Congress passed the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the end of the Civil War. It banned discrimination in employment, public accommodations (hotels, motels, restaurants, etc.), and housing; it also guaranteed voting rights for blacks in areas suspected of disenfranchising blacks.
Today, several agencies in the federal government exercise sweeping powers to enforce these civil rights measures. But is that enough? Equality of condition between blacks and whites seems as elusive as ever. The black unemployment rate is double that of whites and the percentage of black families living in poverty is nearly four times that of whites. Only a small percentage of blacks ever make it into medical school or law schools. Advocates of affirmative action have focused upon these differences to support their argument that it is no longer enough just to stop discrimination.
Liberal Democrats feel that the damage done by three centuries of racism now has to be remedied, they argue, and effective remediatio...
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