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5.10: Changes in American Culture Brought About by Governmental Policies

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    Figure 5.10.1: Marchers rally at the March on Washington, 1963

    Without a doubt, many governmental policies have brought about significant changes for the citizens of America. Whether these policies reformed voting rights, allocated servicemen rights, granted immigrant’s rights, enforced affirmative action, or deemed an end to segregation, they have made a lasting change on the American public.

    The Voting Rights Act

    When the Civil War ended, leaders turned to the question of how to rebuild the nation. A major issue was the right to vote. Foremost were the rights of African Americans and former Confederate men.

    Congress passed several acts that were designed to address the question of rights. These acts included forming the Freedman’s Bureau and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. Former male slaves were given the right to vote and to hold public office.

    Congress also passed two amendments to the Constitution. The 14th Amendment made African Americans citizens while protecting citizens from discriminatory state laws. Southern states were to ratify this amendment before being readmitted to the Union.

    The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1870, stated that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." This amendment was the last of the Reconstruction amendments and was concerned with providing voting rights to freedmen.

    Unfortunately, other acts were proposed and ratified that circumvented these amendments. The Black Codes were passed by southern states to restrict freedmen. These codes restricted property ownership, travel, voting rights, and work contracts. Although the thirteenth amendment provided former slaves with the privileges of citizenship, this was not really the case.

    By 1965 significant efforts were made to break the cycle of disfranchisement, but they were not successful. President Johnson issued a call for a strong voting rights law and soon the Voting Rights Act was proposed.

    Congress determined that the existing federal anti-discrimination laws were not sufficient to overcome the resistance of state officials to enforce the 15th Amendment. Even the courts’ efforts were unsuccessful. The discrimination continued.

    President Johnson signed the legislation into law on August 6, 1965. The Act mimicked the 15th Amendment but also contained special enforcement provisions targeted at areas of the country that had the most potential for discrimination.

    The Act was extended in 1970 and 1975 and updated to include other groups that often faced discrimination: Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans.

    The Act was renewed in 1982 and 2006 to again enforce the abolishment of discriminatory practices.

    Figure 5.10.2: The 111th Naval Construction Battalion landing at Omaha Beach before the Mulberry was installed, 6 June 1944.

    The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (GI Bill of Rights)

    The Department of Labor estimated that 15 million men and women would be unemployed after World War II, so the National Resources Planning Board began studying the postwar work demand in 1942 before the war even ended.

    In June 1943, the American Legion created a series of programs designed to educate and train returning military. The bill passed both chambers of Congress in the spring of 1944. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.

    The “GI Bill” provided federal assistance to veterans to help them adjust as they returned to civilian life. Aid was offered in the areas of hospitalization, purchase of homes and business, and education. The Bill would pay tuition, books, supplies, and living expenses if a veteran returned to school or attended college. Almost eight million former servicemen utilized these educational benefits. This doubled the number of college degrees awarded in the decade postwar.

    Approximately 4.3 million home loans were given by 1955. The impact on the economy was significant—the depression that the Department of Labor so greatly feared did not occur because GIs were working, attending school, and purchasing homes.

    The GI Bill has been extended several times, and it was recently signed by President Trump as the Forever GI Bill.

    Figure 5.10.3

    The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Hart-Celler Act)

    America has always been the land of opportunity. Many individuals have chosen to immigrate to the U.S. in search of a better life and better opportunities. However, the National Origin Formula that utilized a percentage based on proportions of the population to restrict immigration—especially from non-northern European countries prevented this opportunity for many. This formula essentially prohibited immigration based on race and ethnicity.

    The National Origin Formula was presented, adopted, and enforced in 1921. It was not until 1965, when a large movement for civil rights was gaining ground, that the enactment of the Immigration and Nationality Act ended this discriminatory practice. This allowed many immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East into the U.S. The demographic mix of culture was changed by this act.

    Long Term Effects

    Approximately 59 million immigrants have arrived in America since the passage of the INA; forever changing the demographics of the U.S.

    These demographic trends became the target of anti-immigration activists beginning in the 1980s, which led to a larger military and border patrol presence and the media’s sensationalism of crimes committed by immigrants.

    In January 2017, Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769 which stopped immigration from seven nations that were primarily Muslim. This order was ruled in violation of the INA’s prohibitions against discrimination. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the second ban to continue apart from persons with family already in the U.S. In December the Supreme Court allowed the full travel ban.

    Figure 5.10.4: "I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally," Ronald Reagan said in 1984

    Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (Simpson-Mazzoli Act or Reagan Amnesty)

    This act was an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act written to reform immigration laws. The INA had an unintended result; it created an illegal immigration problem. In 1986, steps were taken to curtail this problem with a series of consequences, including fines, for anyone knowingly supporting illegal immigration.

    The law made it a crime to participate in the "pattern or practice" of knowingly hiring an "unauthorized alien" and established financial and other penalties for those employing illegal immigrants under the theory that low prospects for employment would reduce undocumented immigration. Obviously, this was to deter employers from hiring illegal immigrants.

    Under provisions in the act, employers had to prove the employee had the right to work in this country. Also, the act made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants.

    On the other side, some seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants were given legal status and amnesty was given to those who had entered the U.S> before January 1, 1982. In theory it sounded good; however, this section of the act also penalized those immigrants with a fine, back taxes, and required them to admit their guilt to this crime. Additionally, they had to prove that they were not criminals, that they were present in the country before the specified date, and that they were familiar with U.S. history, government, and the English language.

    Effects of the IRCA

    Discriminatory hiring practices were utilized because some workers were believed to be foreign looking, so they were passed over for employment. Also, a subcontractor acted as a middleman to vet and hire workers.

    In 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing amnesty for the children of illegal immigrants who met the above conditions.

    Figure 5.10.5: In his first State of the Union Address in January 1961, President Kennedy said, "The denial of constitutional rights to some of our fellow Americans on account of race – at the ballot box and elsewhere – disturbs the national conscience, and subjects us to the charge of world opinion that our democracy is not equal to the high promise of our heritage."

    Affirmative Action

    The Council for Equal Employment Opportunity was created in 1961 by President Kennedy to ensure that projects funded by the government take “affirmative action” when hiring and employing workers. President Johnson and President Nixon continued this plan with stronger consequences for those entities not complying with the program.

    Affirmative Action was presented with the goal of curbing an ongoing problem with discrimination. It was “intended to end and correct the effects of a specific form of discrimination.” These Affirmative Action policies were aimed at underrepresented groups such as women and minorities that have historically been discriminated against. By requiring equal employment opportunities to minorities, the wrongs in hiring, employment, and wage practices were being addressed. Affirmative Action policies cover employment education, public services, and health programs.

    Affirmative Action provided a significant opportunity in the workplace and created diversity. Underrepresented groups in the workforce given hiring preference resulted in an outcry claiming reverse discrimination. Statistical data was used to determine a proportion of workers that should be employed in federal agencies. The courts used these number to rule against programs that required quotas.

    This trend was also prevalent in education, especially in college admissions.

    In 1978, Robert Bakke, a white male, applied and was twice rejected entry to the University of California’s medical school. Bakke’s test scores and college grade point average was higher than some of those admitted to the school. Bakke’s claim was he was not granted admission solely because of his race.

    The case of Bakke v. University. of California was a landmark decision because the court ruled that the university could not use fixed quotas in making admissions decisions as it was a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was also decided that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by using racial quotas as admission standards.

    In 1997 the case of Grantz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger was filed against the University of Michigan law school. The claim was that admission had been denied to the qualified candidate due to race or gender. After lower court decisions and back and forth with the Supreme Court. It was ruled this practice constitutional. In 2006 it was decided that Affirmative Action was allowable to diversify colleges and universities and that this practice did not harm nonminority students.

    Figure 5.10.6

    Racial Integration

    Along with the Civil Rights movement came a push for racial integration. This social movement encouraged the acceptance of African Americans in neighborhoods, schools, and the workforce. Integration seeks to remove barriers, to provide equal opportunities, and to promote diversity for minorities.

    Although CORE and the NAACP are not governmental polilcies, both grassroots organizations formed in the 1900s and have worked consistently to promote the enforcement of the 13th, 14th, and 15th admendments to the Constitution that promise equality for all United States citizens.

    Congress for Racial Equality

    The Congress for Racial Equality, commonly referred to as CORE, was founded by a group of both black and white students in 1942 on the campus of the University of Chicago. CORE is an African-American civil rights organization in the United States that played a pivotal role for African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. CORE’s mission is "to bring about equality for all people regardless of race, creed, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, religion or ethnic background.

    Its founders drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s practice of nonviolent civil disobedience. CORE sent some of its members to help in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and supported student sit-ins at lunch counters across the South. In 1961, CORE's national director James Farmer organized an effort to integrate interstate bus stations and buses in the Deep South with a series of Freedom Rides. Freedom Riders were groups of white and black civil rights activists who rode buses to challenge segregation in interstate transportation in southern states.

    In 1960, the Chicago chapter of CORE began to challenge racial segregation in the Chicago Public Schools. By the late 1950s, the Board of Education's maintenance of the neighborhood school policy resulted in a pattern of racial segregation in the CPS. Predominantly black schools were situated in predominantly black neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city, while predominantly white schools were located in predominantly white areas in the north, northwest and southwest sides of Chicago.

    Many segregated schools were overcrowded, and in order to ease overcrowding, the Board instated double-shifts at some schools. Double-shifts meant that students in affected schools attended less than a full day of class. In another measure to alleviate overcrowding at some schools, the Board sanctioned the construction of mobile classroom units. Moreover, a significant proportion of students dropped out before finishing high school.

    Faculty was segregated, and many teachers in predominantly black schools lacked full-time teaching experience compared to teachers in white schools. In addition, the history curriculum did not mention African Americans.

    Between 1960 and 1963, CORE wrote letters about the conditions of schools to the Board of Education (headed by Superintendent Benjamin Willis), Mayor Richard J. Daley, the Illinois State House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In addition, CORE attended the Board's school budget hearings, speaking against segregation and asking for the Board to implement transfer plans to desegregate the schools.

    In July 1963, CORE staged a week-long sit-in and protest at the Board office in downtown Chicago in response to the Board's inaction. Finally, Board President Claire Roddewig and Willis agreed to meet with CORE to negotiate integration, but no significant changes came to the schools.

    During the mid-1960s, CORE turned towards community involvement, seeking to equip Chicagoans with ways to challenge segregation. Freedom Houses, transfer petitions, community rallies, and meetings served to educate Chicagoans about segregation and provide them with tools to circumnavigate the neighborhood school policy.

    National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

    Founded on February 12, 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s foremost, largest, and most widely recognized civil rights organization. Its more than half-million members and supporters throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, leading grassroots campaigns for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization.

    In 1908, a deadly race riot rocked the city of Springfield, Illinois. Such eruptions of anti-black violence – particularly lynching – were horrifically commonplace, but the Springfield riot was the final tipping point that led to the creation of the NAACP.

    Appalled at this rampant violence, a group of white liberals that included Mary White Ovington and Oswald Garrison Villard (both the descendants of famous abolitionists), William English Walling and Dr. Henry Moscowitz issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice. Some 60 people, seven of whom were African American (including W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Mary Church Terrell), signed the call, which was released on the centennial of Lincoln’s birth.

    Echoing the focus of Du Bois’ Niagara Movement for civil rights, which began in 1905, the NAACP’s aimed to secure for all people the rights guaranteed in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution, which promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively. Accordingly, the NAACP’s mission was and is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens of the United States and eliminate race prejudice. The NAACP seeks to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes.

    Figure 5.10.7

    Questions for Study/Discussion

    Copy and complete the table with details about the governmental policies that have impacted American society.

    Policy purpose pros cons
    the Voting Rights Act
    the GI Bill
    Immigration and Nationality Act
    Immigration and Reform Control Act
    Affirmative Action
    Racial Integration
     Feinberg, Walter (2005-09-15). Affirmative Action. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199284238.00

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