Explore 1950-2000

1950 UNESCO issues statement on race Only when claims of inherent racial inferiority are taken to a horrifying extreme by the Nazis is race science finally discredited. After the Holocaust, the United Nations issues an official statement declaring that "race" has no scientific basis and calling for an end to racial thinking in scientific and political thought. The statement's principal author is Ashley Montagu, a student of Franz Boas. Although important, this shift in scientific thinking has little impact on social policy and ingrained public attitudes about race.
1954 Legal segregation ends In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, civil rights advocates led by Martin Luther King, Jr. organize a yearlong boycott of city buses in Montgomery, Alabama, to protest the state's resistance to school integration. What begins as a struggle over schools spreads to public transportation, voting, and all areas of social life. Despite the violent opposition of some white groups, especially in the Deep South, integration and the freedom struggle continue during the 1950s and 1960s through the work of whites and nonwhites alike. Students, church groups, workers, and volunteers participate in massive non-violent protest, civil disobedience, and public education campaigns. Their efforts culminate in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
1962 sickle cell not "racial" In the 1960s, several key scientific discoveries pave the way for a new understanding of human variation. Among them is the work of Frank Livingstone and A.C. Allison, who unlock the origins of sickle cell, often considered a "racial" disease afflicting Africans. Their research shows that the sickling gene is linked to protection from malaria, not skin color, and the trait is found in areas where malaria was once common, such as the Mediterranean, Arabia, India, and central and western (but not southern) Africa. Livingstone also shows that most traits vary independently from one another and don't come packaged together into what we think of as races.
1967 Laws against mixed marriages declared invalid In the 19th century, 38 states have anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting marriage between whites and nonwhites. By 1924, 29 states, including Virginia, still ban interracial marriages. Anti-miscegenation statutes are not outlawed until 1967, when a Virginia couple is tried and convicted, and files a suit challenging the law. Although the state Supreme Court of Appeals upholds their conviction, the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously against it, declaring that a person's individual right to marry cannot be restricted by race. The Loving decision finally reverses the racist policies set forth in the 1924 Racial Purity Act and invalidates the antimiscegenation laws remaining in 16 other states.
1972 Human diversity is mapped In the early 1970s, geneticist Richard Lewontin decides to find out just how much genetic variation falls within, versus between, the groups we call races. He discovers that 85% of all human variation can be found within any local population; about 94% within any continent. This means local groups are much more diverse than they appear, and our species as a whole is much more similar than we appear. Lewontin's work, confirmed over and over again by others, remains an important milestone in our understanding of race and biology today.
1974 Lau v. Nichols guarantees bilingual education A class action suit by 1800 Chinese families whose children speak limited English leads to a unanimous Supreme Court decision with far-reaching consequences. The court mandates that school districts must provide students with special instruction to ensure "equal access" to the curriculum. Significantly, the court distinguishes between treating students "the same" and supplying them with the tools needed to put them on a par with other students. Although the case specifically deals with language ability and public education, it opens up a new era in federal enforcement of equal opportunity laws.
1977 Government defines race and ethnic categories In response to the 1974 Equal Educational Opportunity Act, the federal Office of Management and Budget issues Directive 15, creating a standard government definition of race for the first time. The categories are meant to aid government agencies, but they also reveal inconsistencies and assumptions about the way different groups are defined. For example, "Black" is defined as a "racial group" but "white" is not. "Hispanic" reflects a pattern of colonization and excludes non-Spanish parts of Central and South America; while "American Indian or Alaskan Native" requires "cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community recognition" - a condition of no other category. The categories are amended in 1996, and a new one, "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander," is added.
1985 Minorities lead nationwide union campaign The struggling Service Employees International Union begins a campaign to attract and organize low-wage workers, predominantly Black and immigrant janitors. Their efforts culminate in the nationwide Justice for Janitors Campaign 2000, headed by minority leaders on the local level. A hundred thousand janitors in 16 cities pledge to fight for a living wage, full-time work, and ongoing health coverage. First to strike are hundreds of Latino and Latina janitors in Los Angeles, who win widespread public support and a dramatic victory after three weeks. Similar protests and strikes follow in New York City, Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, and other major cities - raising awareness of the "invisible" labor forces dominated by minorities and reinvigorating and diversifying organized labor.
1994 Black-white wealth gap Centuries of inequality are not remedied overnight, and colorblind policies only perpetuate disparities. Today, the average white family has eight times the wealth of the average nonwhite family. Even at the same income level, whites have, on average, two to three times as much wealth. Whites are more likely to be segregated that any other group, and 86% of suburban whites still live in places with a Black population of less than 1%. Today, 71% of whites own their own home, compared to 44% of African Americans. Black and Latino mortgage applicants are 60% more likely than whites to be turned down for loans, even after controlling for employment, financial, and neighborhood characteristics.
2000 Census allows more than one race To reflect the growing diversity of the U.S. populace, the 2000 Census adds new race subcategories and allows respondents to check more than one race. Their decision is controversial. "Multi-racial" advocates want to be distinct from traditional constituencies, while civil rights groups fear a loss of support for anti-discrimination programs tied to census numbers. The public's increased interest reflects the census' changing role since the civil rights movement - from one of exclusion to inclusion. Although the debate is far from over, it shows how the construction of race is still important to politics and social policy.


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