1999 August 8

Former President Ford Endorses Affirmative Action


Former President Gerald Ford, a University of Michigan graduate, wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times on this day supporting affirmative action with regard to two affirmative action cases involving the University of Michigan before the Supreme Court. Ford’s op-ed piece was titled, “Inclusive America Under Attack.”

Ford did more than write an op-ed piece on behalf of affirmative action. Conversations at a dinner led to the development of what became known as “the military brief,” an amicus brief in support of affirmative action signed by some of the nation’s most distinguished former military leaders (such an action by on duty officers is not permitted). They included Norman Schwartzkopf, hero of the first Iraq war (1991), Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander in Europe, William Cohen, former U.S. Senator and former Secretary of Defense, and two former superintendents of West Point.

The Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the University of Michigan’s affirmative action plan for undergraduate admissions because of its automatic awarding of points to applicants from three racial groups (Gratz v. Bollinger), but upheld the University’s Law School affirmative action plan, which was less rigid, on the grounds that the state had a compelling interest in a diverse student body (Grutter v. Bollinger, both cases, June 23, 2003).

Ford’s concern about racial justice originated on October 20, 1934, when the university refused to allow fellow football player Willis Ward, an African-American, to play in a game against Georgia Tech, which refused to play against African-Americans. As president, however, he waffled on civil rights issues, particularly court-ordered busing of children to achieve racial integration (see his statement on May 26, 1975).

Ford: “But doors, too, must be kept open. Tolerance, breadth of mind and appreciation for the world beyond our neighborhoods: these can be learned on the football field and in the science lab as well as in the lecture hall. But only if students are exposed to America in all her variety.”

Read Ford’s op-ed piece: http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/speeches/990808.asp

Learn more: Barbara Perry, The Michigan Affirmative Action Cases (2007)

Read about Ford on civil rights and civil liberties issues: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more about affirmative action from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights: http://www.civilrights.org/resources/civilrights101/affirmaction.html

Learn more at a timeline on affirmative action history: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/affirmativetimeline1.html

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