On June 4, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson gave a historic commencement speech at Howard University.
Johnson spoke directly about what would eventually become known as affirmative action. He told the graduates of the historically black college that African-Americans were still living with the legacy of slavery. It was not enough for the nation to say "you are free to compete with all the others" and believe that was completely fair.
"It is not enough just to open the gates of opportunity. All our citizens must have the ability to walk through those gates," Johnson said. "This is the next and the more profound stage of the battle for civil rights. We seek not just freedom but opportunity. We seek not just legal equity but human ability, not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result."
Affirmative action, especially in higher education, has been in and out of the courts multiple times since Johnson gave that speech almost 50 years ago. Quotas have been thrown out, but using race as a limited factor in admissions has remained.
But that could change. In October, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a case that could throw out any and all race-conscious admissions policies, effectively ending affirmative action in higher education.
That possibility has alarmed more than 100 colleges and universities around the country. A dozen of them are among the most elite in the land. MIT, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth and Yale have all filed a brief in support of affirmative action, saying it's essential to achieving the campus diversity that they believe is critical to an effective 21st-century education.
Others say race-conscious admissions policies are still just racist. So we're going to dive into this latest and perhaps most decisive court case now.
- Peter Schmidt, senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education and author of "Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Are Winning the War over College Affirmative Action."
- Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity
This segment aired on August 16, 2012.