The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had outlawed discrimination in hiring based on race, religion, gender, or national origin. However, many argued that simply “leveling the playing field” in hiring was not enough. As President Lyndon Johnson observed in a speech to graduates of Howard University,
You do not take a person who for years has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you’re free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair. Thus it is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates.
—Lyndon Johnson, Howard University, 1965
Johnson argued that more needed to be done to counteract past discrimination that had denied minorities equal opportunities. One way to do this was through a policy known as affirmative action[affirmative action: a policy that calls on employers to actively seek to increase the number of minorities in their workforce] . This policy called on employers to actively seek to increase the number of minorities in their workforce.
Affirmative action increased the number of minority students attending U.S. colleges and universities. In 1978, the Supreme Court ruled in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke that race could be considered in school admissions. But it could not be the only factor. The term “nonresident alien” in the graphs refers to foreign students.
Affirmative action was first introduced by President John F. Kennedy. In 1961, he issued an executive order that called on contractors doing business with the federal government to “take affirmative action” to hire minorities. President Johnson expanded Kennedy’s policy to include women. He also required contractors to have written affirmative action plans. “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.”
President Richard Nixon took affirmative action a giant step further. In an executive order, he required government contractors to develop “an acceptable affirmative action program” that included “goals and timetables.”