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5 Key Events in Affirmative Action History

Affirmative action, also know as equal opportunity, is a federal agenda designed to counteract historic discrimination faced by ethnic minorities, women and other underrepresented groups. To foster diversity and compensate for the ways such groups have historically been excluded, institutions with affirmative action programs prioritize the inclusion of minority groups in the employment, education and government sectors, among others.

Although the policy aims to right wrongs, it is among the most controversial issues of our time.

But affirmative action is not new. Did you know that its origins date back to the 1860s? At that time, events were set into motion that introduced initiatives to make workplaces, educational institutions and other arenas more inclusive to women, people of color and individuals with disabilities. Better understand affirmative action with this look at its history.

1. What Role Did the 14th Amendment Play?

More so than any other amendment of its time, the 14th Amendment paved the way for affirmative action. Approved by Congress in 1866, the amendment forbade states from creating laws that infringed upon the rights of U.S. citizens or denied citizens equal protection under the law. Following in the steps of the monumental 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause would prove key in shaping affirmative action policy.

2. Affirmative Action Suffers Major Setback in Supreme Court

Sixty-five years before the term “affirmative action” would come into popular use, the Supreme Court made a ruling that could’ve prevented the practice from ever launching. In 1896, the high court decided in landmark case Plessy v. Ferguson that the 14th Amendment did not prohibit a separate but equal society.

In other words, blacks could be segregated from whites as long as the services they received were equal to those of whites.

The Plessy v. Ferguson case stemmed from an incident in 1892 when Louisiana authorities arrested Homer Plessy, who was one-eighth black, for