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Thousands Protest Florida's
Affirmative Action Ban

By David Mark   

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. As Gov. Jeb Bush defended his decision to end affirmative action for university admissions and state contracts, thousands of people gathered nearby to rally against the policy.


Michael Burchfield/AP

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, leads a group of protesters on a march to the Florida Capitol

Singing "We Shall Overcome," and waving signs reading "Jeb Crow," and "Bush Whack," approximately 10,000 people demonstrated Tuesday against the governor's One Florida plan. It bans consideration of race and gender in admissions to the state's 10 public universities and in the awarding of state contracts.

The protests coincided with the beginning of the Florida Legislature's regular session and Bush's State of the State address inside the Capitol.

"The vast majority of Floridians favor the elimination of affirmative action programs," Bush said during his speech.

Protesters called the policy a setback for civil rights.

"This is the first step towards re-segregation," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald of Atlanta.

Police estimated the crowd at 9,000 to 11,000 people. Participants included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the Rev. Martin Luther King III, members of Congress and state legislators.

Zac, the 8-year-old son of Florida State University student Vicki Whitaker, carried a sign that read "My Mom Needs Affirmative Action."

"This is oppression, pure and simple," she said. "It's not about color, it's about oppression. They are telling us we have to trust people will do the right thing, and we know from our history that will just not happen."


Mark Foley/AP

Gov. Jeb Bush, left, has put portions of his One Florida plan into effect through executive order

The governor's plan guarantees college admission to the top 20 percent of each high school graduating class, provided students have taken college preparatory classes. Texas, Washington state and California also have ended affirmative action in university admissions.

Bush has put portions of his One Florida plan into effect through executive order, but other segments still need approval by the Florida Legislature, both chambers of which are controlled by Republicans likely to back the governor.

Supporters of Bush's plan say the state actually will boost minority enrollment in college and participation in contracting by reaching out to blacks and others.

"There is a new energy for minority outreach that is unprecedented in state government," the governor said. "Our plan is working."

But Jackson said Bush doesn't understand the importance of affirmative action.

"When you inherit the name, when you inherit legal protection, when you inherit the wealth, when you inherit skin color, when you inherit your parents' friends for advantage, you just don't understand," Jackson said.

In Miami, nearly 600 school bus drivers took the day off to attend the rally, briefly stranding thousands of students

 

Nutshell History of Affirmative Action

1961

President Kennedy coins the phrase 'affirmative action' during a speech in support of an executive order encouraging employment and promotion for minorities and women. The order also creates the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and directs contractors on projects funded with federal money to 'take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during their employment, without regard to race, creed, color or national origin.'

 

1964

Affirmative action gets a kickstart when President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, gender or religion in the workplace.

 

1965

President Johnson orders the Labor Department to ensure that minorities are hired. The executive order requires that every federal contractor comply in order to receive federal money. The order also includes a requirement that minority-owned businesses receive a portion of government contracts.

 

1968

A week after Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Tennessee, Congress passes the nation's first open housing law, the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

 

1969

The Nixon Administration develops the Philadelphia Plan, requiring that contractors on federally assisted projects set specific goals for hiring minorities.

 

1971

In Griggs v. Duke Power, the Supreme Court holds that Title VII bans 'not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form but discriminatory in operation.' Public and private employers are forced to adopt hiring policies designed to recruit more minorities.

 

1972

The Equal Opportunity Act of 1972 expands the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to encompass educational institutions, leading to the extension of affirmative action to colleges and universities across America.

 

1978

In Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court rules that it is unconstitutional for the University of California at Davis medical school to hold 16 places in each 100-member class for minorities. The ruling, however, upholds the concept of granting special consideration to minorities allowing schools the right to consider several factors, including race, ethnicity, gender and economic status, when accepting students.

 

1979

In United Steelworkers v. Weber, the Supreme Court rules that a short-term voluntary training program that gives preference to minorities is constitutional. The court agrees that a short-term project specifically designed to foil past discriminatory practices is not unduly unfair to the advancement of whites.

 

1980

In Fullilove v. Klutznick, the Supreme Court upholds a provision of a public works act from 1977. It determines that the 10 percent 'set aside' for hiring minority contractors on federally funded public works projects is constitutional. The Court majority says it is Congress' responsibility to remedy past and ongoing discrimination in the awarding of federal contracts.

 

1986

In Wygant v. Jackson Board of Education, the Supreme Court rules against a plan to protect minority teachers from layoffs at the expense of white teachers with more seniority.

 

1989

In Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co., the Supreme Court rejects local programs that set aside work for minority contractors, ruling that local governments do not have the same power as Congress to enact these programs.

Also, in Ward's Cove Packing Company v. Antonio, the Supreme Court waters down the 1971 Griggs decision. The new decision requires that employees filing discrimination lawsuits must expose specific hiring practices that have led to disparities in the workplace. Even after the employees do so, the hiring practices may still be considered legal if they serve 'legitimate employment goals of the employer.'

 

1990

In Metro Broadcasting v. Federal Communications Commission, the Supreme Court rules that federal laws designed to increase the number of minority-owned radio and television stations are constitutional.

 

1991

Congress responds to the conservatism of the Supreme Court by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which strengthens anti-discrimination laws and largely reverses the Ward's Cove decision of 1989. The new act also states that work forces do not have to match the statistical population make-up of a community.

 

1995

The Supreme Court limits federal affirmative action efforts by refusing to hear a case declaring scholarships for African-Americans unconstitutional.

The Court also establishes a stricter standard of constitutionality for affirmative action cases. In Adarand Constructors v. Pena, the Supreme Court overturns a statute that sets aside 'not less than 10 percent' of highway construction funds to small businesses owned by minorities.

The University of California system votes to end preferential policies in admissions.

 

1996

By approving Proposition 209, California voters choose to eliminate language that grants preferential treatment to minorities and women by initiative.

In Texas, a circuit court bars the University of Texas Law School from considering race or ethnicity during admissions.

The House Republican leadership withdraws its support from a bill that would have ended all federal affirmative action programs because the leadership decides the bill has no chance of passing.

 

1997

The Supreme Court refuses to hear the case of California's Proposition 209. This grants the state the right to abolish race- and gender-based preferences in state institutions.

 

1998

When the affirmative action changes finally take effect for the University of California and the University of Texas Law School, minority enrollment at both plummets.

 

Thousands protest One Florida

As Gov. Jeb Bush delivers his State of the State speech inside the Capitol, a crowd of some 11,000 rallies against his plan to reshape affirmative action.

 

By WILLIAM YARDLEY and SHELBY OPPEL

St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- A raucous crowd estimated at 11,000 people climbed steep Apalachee Parkway to the steps of the old state Capitol Tuesday morning and delivered two clear messages to Gov. Jeb Bush:

"Race and gender matter" and "We will remember in November."

Beneath a warm sun and a spotless blue sky, the predominantly black crowd gathered to protest Bush's One Florida plan to reshape affirmative action.

Many had traveled overnight on buses, from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa Bay and smaller places in between. Some came from out of state. Others drove themselves or walked from nearby neighborhoods.

Just as marchers reached the oaks that shelter the old Capitol, Bush was rising to a rostrum inside the towering new Capitol next door to deliver his State of the State address to open the 2000 Legislature. Bush spoke for 32 minutes before fewer than 160 lawmakers in the House chamber, promising less government, less taxes and greater diversity.

In his speech, Bush said he is "doing the right thing" with a plan that has already increased minority enrollment at Florida State University by 18 percent over last year without using race as a factor.

"The plan is working," Bush insisted. "Fairness and diversity are achieved without pitting one group against another. There is a new energy for minority outreach that is unprecedented in state government."

The governor never mentioned the crowd outside. Asked about it as he left the House, Bush said he thinks the protesters someday will realize that One Florida will help minorities.

"They are here because somehow they've been told we're taking a step back," he told reporters. "We are not."

He told legislators the fierce objections to his One Florida plan have reminded him of the "public and private price for taking a stand on principle."

When he proposed One Florida last fall, many thought his effort was designed to derail Californian Ward Connerly's much broader initiative that would ban affirmative action. Unlike Connerly's approach, Bush would replace race and gender preferences with a system of outreach in university admissions, hiring and state contracting.

"The vast majority of Floridians favor the elimination of all affirmative action programs," Bush said. "It would have been politically expedient to simply let these programs be dismantled, with nothing to replace them."

Outside the Capitol, though, distrust of the Republican governor prevailed among the protesters.

Local law enforcement authorities estimated between 9,000 and 11,000 people listened, chanted and cheered as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Martin Luther King III and other national and state civil-rights leaders spent almost four hours urging them to continue pressuring Bush until he backs away from One Florida.

"We're going to shout until the walls of One Florida come on down," Bishop Victor T. Curry, president of the Miami-Dade County NAACP, shouted into the microphone as protesters screamed and applauded.

But on the same day that voters in many other states went to the polls in the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, Curry and nearly every speaker made clear the target was broader than One Florida. Their resentment extended to Bush's educational reforms and to his entire family, particularly his brother, Texas governor and Republican presidential front-runner George W. Bush.

Jackson derided the Texas governor for not opposing the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina state capitol and for not speaking out against intolerance at conservative Bob Jones University.

"The moral," he told the crowd, "is stay out of the Bushes."

Jackson and others repeated a phrase President Clinton made popular about affirmative action: "Mend it, don't end it."

Jackson credited the push for gender equity in college athletics for the victory last year of the U.S. women's soccer team over China. Affirmative action, he said, is a "majority issue, not a minority issue," one that benefits women most.

"Don't let them make this a black and white issue. That's a trick," he said, before adding one of his trademark verses: "This is not about black and white, it's about wrong and right."

The march occurred 35 years to the day after civil rights marchers in Selma, Ala., were beaten while crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It grew out of reaction to an earlier protest that also used tactics from the civil rights movement.

Miami Sen. Kendrick Meek and Jacksonville Rep. Tony Hill held a 25-hour sit-in the governor's offices Jan. 18-19. Bush's angry reaction to the situation helped galvanize his opponents.

Florida NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze announced to the crowd that Capitol police were estimating the crowd had reached nearly 50,000. That's far more than the figure police released.

Told of the police estimates, Obi Nweze said, "I'm not going to allow anyone to dampen what happened today."

Tuesday, many marchers waved signs with bitter messages, including "Jeb Crow" and "Remember, Jeb and George come from the same Bush." A small biplane circled several times, towing a sign: "God Bless Jeb." There were no arrests, though 40 or so people were treated for heat-related illness.

"There ain't much shade on the parkway," said Tallahassee police spokesman Kevin Bradshaw.

There was a little more near the old Capitol, where the crowd crushed petunia beds and leaned against Civil War memorials.

Young faces were common, from babies in strollers to college students. With about 90 fellow seniors from Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Monique Wright skipped class for the march.

"As seniors, this affects us more than anyone," Wright, 17, said as she pulled the leash of her black cocker spaniel, Taylor, up the hill to the Capitol.

Wright doubted Bush would listen to her classmates' chants of "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

But their voices still were important to serve as a "wake-up call for black people," Wright said. "This is just to let (Bush) know that we are his boss. He is not our boss."

Laborers International local 517, which draws members from Tampa and St. Petersburg, bused in more than 400 construction and maintenance workers.

"This has really fired up our membership," said local president Joe O'Donnell, 51.

A member of the state university system Board of Regents, Steve Uhlfelder, watched from a distance. Regents, headed by Tom Petway Bush appointee and crony, recently voted to adopt part of One Florida that would replace race-and gender-based admissions with other programs Bush says will increase diversity.

"People aren't listening," Uhlfelder said of the crowd. "It's an emotional issue -- it's hard for people to understand the plan. There's a lack of trust, but the proof will be in the outcome."

After the march, at a late afternoon news conference at the Governor's Mansion, Bush put a positive spin on the day. "What they want their governor to be focused on is to make sure we are vigilant in the fight against discrimination," he said, summarizing his interpretation of the speeches.

He defended One Florida and said he received hundreds of supportive phone calls Tuesday. "A majority of Floridians do support us on this."

The governor's own pollster came to that conclusion three weeks ago, finding that 51 percent of those polled approve of One Florida.

Today, Bush will meet with state NAACP leaders.

Asked about personal attacks against him, the governor said:

"It doesn't bother me a bit. I know what I'm doing is right. For the people who don't believe it's appropriate to implement our strategy -- at the end, when they see there's more opportunities being given to African-Americans and Hispanics, little by little, they'll give me the benefit of the doubt for standing on principle."

 

 

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