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Tech Cartoon Erred: King Favored Affirmative Action

Guest Column by Jonathan D. Taylor

In the May 2 issue of The Tech, there was a cartoon depicting Martin Luther King delivering his famous "I Have a Dream" speech [Opinion, May 2]. The cartoon ended with a solemn-looking man saying, "Amen," holding a report entitled "affirmative action." It is not my aim here to discuss the merits and drawbacks of affirmative action. Suffice it to say that periodic reviews of public policy are healthy in a democracy, and affirmative action, like any other policy, should be assessed to make sure its actual and intended effects coincide. What I do want to point out - to the contrary of what was implied in the cartoon - is that Martin Luther King favored affirmative action.

Consider the Jan. 1965 Playboy interview with King. King was asked about a $50 billion program of low interest housing and business loans, medical care, and other items that he and other civil rights leaders were proposing. He hoped this program would achieve, in his words, a "genuine and dramatic transformation in the conditions of Negro life in America." One component of this program was similar to a provision in the GI Bill of Rights for those returning from World War II. According to King, ex-GIs received "special points to place them ahead in competition for civil service jobs." These special points created an environment that "encourage[d] preferential employment." Here are some excerpts from the interview.

"Question: Do you feel it's fair to request a multi-billion-dollar program of preferential treatment for the Negro, or for any other minority group?

"King: I do indeed Within common law, we have ample precedents for special compensatory programs, which are regarded as settlements. American Indians are still being paid for land in a settlement manner. Is not two centuries of labor, which helped to build this country, a real commodity?

"Question: If a nationwide program of preferential employment for Negroes were to be adopted, how would you propose to assuage the resentment of whites who already feel that their jobs are being jeopardized by the influx of Negroes resulting from desegregation?

"King: We must develop a federal program of public works, retraining and jobs for all - so that none, white or black, will have cause to feel threatened. At the present time, thousands of jobs a week are disappearing in the wake of automation and other production efficiency techniques. Black and white, we will all be harmed unless something grand and imaginative is done. The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro. Together, they could exert massive pressure on the government to get jobs for all. Together, they could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all."

Take, as another example, King's description of Operation Breadbasket, an operation he developed with the goal of "securing more and better jobs for the Negro people." The following is an excerpt from King's 1967 Where Do We Go from Here?

"Operation Breadbasket is carried out mainly by clergymen. First, a team of ministers calls on the management of a business in the community to request basic facts on the company's total number of employees, the number of Negro employees, the department or job classification in which all are located, and the salary ranges for each category. The team then returns to the steering committee to evaluate the data and to make a recommendation concerning the number of new and upgraded jobs that should be requested. The decision on the number of jobs requested is usually based on population figures. For instance, if a city has a 30 percent Negro population, then it is logical to assume that Negroes should have at least 30 percent of the jobs in any particular company, and jobs in all categories rather than only in menial areas, as the case almost always happens to be."

I think it is fair to say that King saw no inconsistency between his dream of a "color-blind" America and his remedies for the "color-conscious" one. Opponents of Affirmative Action are being dishonest when they suggest otherwise.

Copyright 19,95, The Tech. All rights reserved.
This story was published on .
Volume 115, Number 24.
This story appeared on page 5.

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