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  • Writer's pictureKarl M. Miller

Civil Rights Was Also About Rewarding Merit, it is Still Needed Today to Reduce Disparities

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An important aspect of the of the civil rights movement that is often not acknowledged is that it wasn't just about fighting for equal rights based on color, it was also about meritocracy. Many blacks didn't just want rights because of their color, they wanted rights because in many cases they were the most qualified person for a position but were denied the opportunity. Despite the vast racial progress and diversity in many positions since then, many blacks and liberals today would like to think it is 'helpful' to blacks and minorities if positions were allocated based on race to fill a quota even if the the person is not qualified. More consequential, there is a growing virtuous movement to lower standards to fill racial quotas in stead of addressing the issues which are actually creating racial disparities today. Undermining standards for merit may make some people feel good, but it is creating negative history today which will be reflected upon years later. It also is igniting old wounds of racial animosities because if a person is chosen based on their race, that means someone like in the 1950s were also not chosen because of their race.

An illustrative example during the civil rights movement where there was fight for recognition based on race and merit was the case of Marlon Green. An excerpt from an article on the Virginia Department of Aviation website sums up the story of 'Marlon Green Breaking Barriers in Aviation.'

"In 1957, former Air Force B-26 pilot Marlon Green applied to multiple airlines without a response. Rather than accept his fate, he took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and won.

In 1957, former Air Force pilot of B-26s Marlon Green applied to multiple airlines without response. On his application to Continental Airlines, he decided to leave the “race” box unchecked and did not supply a picture. He made it to the final round of interviews with four other pilots, all white, and all with only a third of his flight hours. Continental chose the four white pilots and rejected Green’s application.

At that point, Green decided that he had a choice. He could accept his fate, or he could fight. He filed a complaint with the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission. The commission ruled in his favor, but Colorado courts overturned them. After six years of appeals, the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Commission petitioned for a hearing in the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.

On April 22, 1963, six years after he applied to Continental, the Supreme Court upheld the commission’s original decision in Green’s favor, and ordered Continental to enroll Green in a pilot training class to prepare him for company flights. Marlon Green began his aviation career in the Air Force, where he earned his pilot’s wings and became a commissioned officer.

“Capt. Marlon Green” was the first African American pilot hired by a major airline in the U.S. and flew with Continental for 13 years before retiring. Boeing 737–800 N77518, was nicknamed in his honor and is now sporting United titles after the merger transition."

Despite the movements today such Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Environmental Social Governance (ESG) standards, nothing will reduce racial disparities in wealth, education and economic mobility unless there are legitimate efforts to remove the barriers that undermine the ascendance of merit. It is widely shown that lock down efforts greatly lead to achievement gaps of mostly the poor and minorities. At 23 Baltimore public schools, out of 150, not one student tested proficient in math, including 10 high schools. Also in Baltimore, 77% of the high school students read only at elementary school levels. The fall in proficiency standards is widespread in other major cities too such as New York and Chicago. It is not helpful to poor and minorities that DEI and ESG will give them a false prop up later in life for positions they may not be qualified for, when billions spent in education failed them years earlier. Charter Schools with high proficiency standards have proven to reduce disparities in achievements, but the same liberal ideology that prefers DEI and ESG standards often try to undermine them because of the teacher unions donor base to liberal causes who also oppose charter school strict standards of accountability for teaching. There has also been actions to reduce honor rolls and gifted students programs so they do not offend underachieving students.

Culturally it will be beneficial for poor and minorities to make a stronger demand higher standards for meritocracy. Black immigrants from many countries which also had a history of slavery and also faced oppression and poverty in the modern era which no American has, often excel in upward mobility and higher rates than black Americans. Same can be said about Asian immigrants who often have the highest proficiency achievement standards of any racial group. Many corporations, successful and famous minorities in the media, sports or politics claim to be virtuous champions for blacks and minorities. However, they not only resist fighting the well funded educational system that fails upward the upward mobility of poor and blacks, they also encourage the demise of merit based systems because it makes them seem like they are actually helping. The undermining of meritocracy should be the civil rights issue today. Too bad the people who can be the real champions of this issue find it more rewarding to get the support of blacks and minorities by pretending to care rather than actually doing what really matters.

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