To What Extent Were The 1970's A Period Of Greater Equality? What Groups And Movements Pushed For A More Equal Position In America Society, And How Successful Were They? by

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To what extent were the 1970's a period of greater equality? What groups and movements pushed for a more equal position in america society, and how successful were they?


1970's a period of greater equality


By the time Judge Ralph Freeman announced his decision on affirmative action in the Detroit Police Department on May 9, 1975, the crowd of white protesters outside had swelled to over a thousand. In the large, marbled U.S. District Courthouse on West Lafayette Avenue in downtown Detroit, Freeman ordered that the traditional "last hired, first fired" seniority principle be modified so that police officers recently hired under the city's new affirmative action plan retain their positions in the face of massive layoffs. As Freeman delivered his ruling, the line of Detroit Police Officers Association (DPOA) members, their family and friends, city council members, and union sympathizers from as far away as Buffalo and Chicago stretched through the streets surrounding the courthouse. They held signs reading "Detroit Is an Un-Equal Employment Opportunity Employer," "Uphold Our Contract," "Do Whites Have Rights?," and "Real Affirmative Action: Fire the Mayor." The last sign referred to Coleman A. Young, the city's black mayor and the author of the much-hated affirmative action plan. Freeman's decision was not well received. Protesters, many of whom now stood to lose their jobs, moved to block the streets, shouting, "You police the city," and "Talk about rights; we've got no rights." A fight broke out between several off-duty white policemen and an off-duty black policeman, with guns drawn. "We're gonna kill you, you . . . niggers!" one man screamed. As the black police officer left for the hospital with a broken nose, a group of enraged white policemen struck a local television cameraman over the head and knocked him to the ground.

Reaction to what some Detroiters called a "police riot" underscored not only the deep divide over demands for racial and gender equality but also the less acknowledged tensions between labor union members and liberals in a period marked by economic recession and divergent interests. Mayor Young denounced the protests as a "drunken brawl," and the police chief characterized the attack on the black officer as "clearly racial." Detroit residents, beset by a spiraling crime rate, lived in a city where law enforcement was, as one journalist put it in the wake of the courthouse demonstration, "in deep trouble." The leaders of the police officers' union, led by its president, Ron Sexton, dismissed the violence as a small skirmish, divorced from the demonstration and its objective. They sought to frame the conflict as a defense of labor's rights, an important appeal in the heavily union city. "Our problem, our cause, our efforts that day were for seniority rights and nothing else. . . . We are not white, we are not black. The DPOA is all blue," they proclaimed. Their legal challenges to affirmative action would continue for the next twenty years.


Protests by working-class white men in the 1970s, such as those by Detroit policemen, are ...