“If the Senator can find in Title VII…any language…
that an employer will have to hire on the basis of percentage
or quota related to color…I will start eating
the pages….”

by Rod D. Martin
July 2, 2004

So said Hubert Humphrey as the US Senate prepared to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act, whose 40th anniversary is July 2.

Humphrey was right. Just look at the text.

Section 703(a) within Title VII forbids employers to “limit, segregate, or classify” employees based on their “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

And Section 703(j) reads:

“Nothing contained in this title shall be interpreted to require any employer….to grant preferential treatment to any individual or….group…on account of an imbalance.”

Clearly, this landmark act, the most sweeping civil rights law since Reconstruction, was meant to be a hammer blow to racial discrimination. Its vision? A merit-based society where, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, people are judged on the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Its goal? Individual empowerment and equal opportunity: a chance for every individual to compete equally, and go as far in life as their works allowed.

Yet one year later, in June 1965, there was President Lyndon B. Johnson, speaking at Howard University, betraying that law and the spirit behind it: “This is the next…stage of the battle for civil rights…. We seek…equality as a result.”

Vice President Humphrey must have gagged. Equality, freedom, opportunity: all were out the window. In their place, Johnson had imposed a caste system.

The difference was stark. Just compare these two executive orders on civil rights, one by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, the other by LBJ in 1965.

JFK’s executive order (10925) required federal contractors to treat job applicants and employees “without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”

In other words, equal treatment for all.

But LBJ’s executive order (11246), creating a contract compliance office in the Labor Department, forced bidders to submit “manning tables” guaranteeing the proportions of racial minorities they’d hire if their bid was accepted.

In other words, preferential treatment for some. Or, to put it more bluntly, racial quotas: legally-mandated racism, just as in the days of Jim Crow.

From here, governments fell all over themselves to get into the discriminatory act, from Richard Nixon’s executive orders to myriad state government actions to the 1971 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Griggs v. Duke Power, which turned the 1964 Act on its head while pretending to uphold it. Black was white and white was black, as “reverse discrimination” became the tool of choice to achieve a state-imposed “equality of result” (elsewhere known as “central planning”), and as Dr. King’s vision was wiped away.

Some call this “affirmative” action. In fact, it’s an assault on the dignity of the individual — of all races — and the deepest values and dreams of the civil rights movement. Racial equality has been scuttled, and racial unity is as distant as before.

Has there been progress since 1964? Certainly — plenty indeed. Black Americans have made remarkable strides in fulfilling and living the American Dream. Enormous numbers enjoy executive and professional careers and have entered the broad American middle class. The number of black millionaires has risen exponentially.

Yet two points must be made.

First, thanks to quotas, a cloud of suspicion hangs over too many minority individuals with good jobs and fine schooling. That’s horribly unfair to the vast numbers who’ve made it on their own merits since the 1964 Act removed the unjust shackles of deliberate discrimination.

Second, quotas have done nothing to help the black underclass, or break the vicious cycles of welfare dependency and drug abuse, unwed motherhood and crime, fatherless families and dysfunctional public schools.

In fact, under the same “equal-outcome” obsession that led to quotas, Uncle Sam spent trillions of dollars making a bad situation worse. An avalanche of government welfare money — no strings attached — paid people not to work or marry, save or invest, or confront the behavioral causes of their poverty. As someone once said, “We fought a War on Poverty, and the poor lost.”

What good are quotas, let alone a civil rights law, if you haven’t the character to hold a good job, or the skills or education to get one? What good is equal employment opportunity without equal educational opportunity, which is absent when public schools fail and parents have no options?

As we mark the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, now’s a good time to confront these questions afresh — and embrace solutions. Continued welfare reform is one of them: the 1996 law has freed countless families from the clutches of poverty and despair. School choice is another; so is real Social Security reform, so the poor can accumulate real wealth and security of their own, and the resulting business expansion will create the jobs they need.

And while we’re reflecting, maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Congress to banish quotas and preferences forever — by forcing bureaucrats everywhere to interpret its civil rights laws as written, according to the merit-based vision of its drafters and of Dr. King.

After all, after forty long years, isn’t it time?