After the Dream - Transcript - Effects on Employment

After the Dream - Transcript - Effects on Employment


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Welcome to After the Dream, which examines the social, economic, and political implications of events in America’s South following the civil rights movement of the mid 1960s, and the ongoing struggle for black equality.

In part three, Professor Timothy Minchin and Professor Emeritus John Salmond will discuss the effects that the Civil Rights Act had on employment in the southern states after 1965. We'll start with Professor Minchin.

Professor Timothy Minchin:

Continued poverty of the African-American community is really the big remaining race issue I think in the United States. It's the big problem the remains and the legislation was able to tackle the most sort of egregious and obvious discriminative practices, like actually declaring the jobs were segregated and having segregated trade unions and so on. We know about, it was tackled quite effectively but it didn't actually produce the dramatic change in the economic states of the black community that a lot of the civil rights supporters it hoped for.

There was particular resistance in the employment area I think the white attitude was the legislation have been passed, the problem had been addressed, there was no need for any further action and this was particularly evident in this crucial area of so called affirmative action started to become a major debate in the 1970s when the federal government looked at the ongoing problem of black inequality economically the huge gap between black and white incomes due to the fact that the black unemployment rate was generally about twice as high as the white unemployment and they argued that we need to have federal machinery to do more than simply abolishing discrimination.

We need to have some techniques to try and assist the black community achieve greater economic equality. And this was an area that was particularly resisted by the white population and affirmative action remained particularly controversial issue into the 1990s and 2000s and still have some residents even today in the, in the United States as a controversial political issue.

Employment was certainly the least satisfactory. A progress was made where the enforcement of the legislation was most problematic. And it was really a combination of two things it was partly that the problem of employment discrimination is so pervasive, so difficult to tackle and something that was rooted in decades of discrimination and secondly the fact that the federal machinery in the act was actually ineffective to tackle such a difficult problem.

The commission that was set up to enforce the laws mandate against employment was called the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and it was underfunded. It lacked the authority it needed to produce real change. It couldn't issue the so called Cease and Desist Orders, which meant that it couldn't force employers that were violating the law to actually change their practices.

The fact that it was underfunded meant there was a huge backlog of complaints from black workers in the southern states that were filing complaints of discrimination. By the early 1970s. I think it has taken two years to get the complaints investigated by the commission so, this obviously frustrated ordinary black people in the south if you were to facing employment discrimination if you were being denied promotion or having to do a worse job. And you're trying to use the law to address that if it's taking two years just to get your complaint investigated.. Obviously this is frustrating in ordinary black people in the south.

The issue of employment was one where the least amount of progress was made and this is true even today that, of course it's the most striking thing about if you travel to the United States is that the black community remains much poorer than the white community and this is very obvious once you're in the United States by the segregated housing that still exist and the fact that the black neighborhoods are generally much poorer.

And the kind of jobs that you still see African-Americans concentrated in many of the same jobs that they actually performed prior to 1965 they still do in the janitorial positions, the laboring positions and so on.

Professor John Salmond

Some of the provisions of these acts have and in particular in the area of employment have been constricted because of decisions of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has become steadily more conservative over the decades that we consider. And it has ruled in certain key cases in ways that have really narrowed the way the titles have and can be interpreted and continues so to do.

One of the unforeseen consequences of the employment provision which has been I would've thought remarkably successful is what it's meant for female employment generally that these acts applied not only to African-Americans.

Professor Timothy Minchin

I mean it was put in by segregation is an effort to sort of torpedo that provision as I understand but actually the ban on discrimination against women, which went in to Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act, of course a big boom to the Feminist Movement and has helped the women's movement a great deal. But in terms of civil rights enforcement, I think it actually slowed down the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission because of course as well as investigating racial discrimination, they also had to investigate gender discrimination. And that was a huge area obviously because of the women being half the population.

So this slow down added to this problem of a complained backlog that it was carrying.

And that was Professor Minchin. The book they co-authored is called ‘After the Dream: Black and White Southerners since 1965’. It is published by the University of Kentucky Press and is available from all good book stores. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, you can send us an email at