In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

The 1970s

Politically and socially speaking, the 1970s were an interesting period. In the aftermath of Dr. King's assassination, the fervor and intensity of the civil rights movement waned, but it didn't disappear entirely. It continued in some respects, in that activists and legislators fought to maintain what had been accomplished by the struggle thus far. However, those that had fought together for one united cause were now dividing to address other social issues. During the late '60s, the Vietnam War attracted many activists' attention. Also, another civil rights movement was taking shape in the form of the modern feminist movement.

Three key events of the '70s mark the reverberation of Dr. King's legacy and the civil rights movement:

  • The Bakke decision - After he had been turned down by the medical school at University of California, Davis, Allan Bakke, a white man, files a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Bakke, stating that medical school admission programs that set aside positions based on race are unconstitutional. In a way, the Supreme Court also rules in favor of affirmative action by maintaining that medical schools are entitled to consider race as a factor during the admissions process. (More information: FindLaw: UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA REGENTS v. BAKKE)
  • Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education - On April 20, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a previous ruling that considers busing a legitimate means for achieving integration of public schools. As a result of the ruling, court-ordered busing plans are put into action in cities across the United States. Many of these plans remain in effect through the later part of the 1990s. (More information: Touro Law: SWANN V. CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUC.) Because the struggle was most visible in the southern United States, civil rights issues in the north, midwest and west are often left without mention. It's important to note that for some states outside the southern region, civil rights issues that were addressed in the 1950s and 1960s in the south continued to demand attention well into the 1970s. For example, desegregation in schools was still underway as late as 1975 in Boston and Chicago.
  • Renewal of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 - The provisos of The Voting Rights Act of 1965, scheduled to expire in 1970, are extended in 1970, and again in 1975 and 1982. Due to the nature of this Act and the surrounding climate during its initial creation, certain provisos were made to ensure non-discriminatory practices. For example, Section 8, 42 U.S.C. § 1973f grants the U.S. Attorney General authorization to send federal observers to monitor elections, to guarantee that eligible black voters are actually permitted to vote and that their votes are indeed counted. If not extended again, the provisos (not the Act) are due to expire in 2007. (More information: U.S. Department of Justice: Voting Rights Act Clarification)