On September 24, 1965—47 years ago today—President Lyndon B. Johnson issued Executive Order 11246, prohibiting employment discrimination and requiring contractors to take affirmative action.
The fight for equal employment opportunity had been ongoing. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953 through Executive Order 10479 created a committee to monitor compliance with equal employment opportunity programs. Then, in 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s Executive Order 10925 required government contractors to “take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.”
Now, years later, Executive Order 11246 broadened this order, prohibiting employment discrimination on four grounds: race, color, religion, and national origin. (Two years later, President Johnson would add sex to this list.)
The Order states, in part:
The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment without regard to their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
It included provisions for multiple areas, such as employment, upgrading, demotion, transfer, recruitment, compensation, and more. The Order required government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment.
News articles published soon after the signing described Johnson’s efforts as a revamping of civil rights programs.
Today, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) within the U.S. Department of Labor ensures that government contractors comply with these provisions. (To learn more about how this works, check out the Department of Labor’s website.)
For a comprehensive list of related laws, check out this page from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
To learn more about the history of affirmative action, check out this page from UC Irvine’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity. Detailed studies can be found in J. Edward Kellough’s Understanding Affirmative Action: Politics, Discrimination, and the Search for Justice (Georgetown University Press 2006) and Terry H. Anderson’s The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action (Oxford University Press 2005).
Affirmative action—not only in employment but also in school acceptances and other such arenas—is still debated today. For a discussion of the affirmative action debate, check out Faye Crosby and Cheryl VanDeVeer’s edited volume Sex, Race, and Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment (University of Michigan Press 2000).
To learn more about President Johnson, check out Robert Caro’s The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power (Knopf 2012).
To learn about President Johnson’s relationship with the civil rights movement, check out David Carter’s The Music Has Gone Out of the Movement: Civil Rights and the Johnson Administration, 1965-1968 (UNC Press 2009).