The evolution of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity program and the role of the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Dr. Wynona Y. James
  • 21st Space Wing Equal Opportunity

During the spring of 1963, the world watched as demonstrators, particularly in deep southern states in the U.S., were beaten, attacked by police dogs, sprayed with high-pressure water hoses, and then arrested and jailed. The sight of this kind of brutality against peaceful demonstrators, including children, outraged Americans at home and tarnished the image of the U.S. abroad. Ironically, these images galvanized the nation by confronting it with its own failings. During the summer of 1963, civil rights protests were at an all-time high, which led to President John F. Kennedy proposing the evolution of federal laws that ensured equal rights for all individuals in the U.S. 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ensured equality and protection from unlawful discrimination toward blacks and other minorities in America. Although the law was progressive and made strides in leveling equality in American institutions and toward minorities, there were portions of the country that remained resistant to the laws. Civil rights laws were developed to maintain equality and protection from unlawful discrimination and hate groups. However, during the 1960s, bitterness and hatred remained constant in day-to-day dialogues on racial unrest and any goals toward reconciliation eroded.

Eventually, the federal law was amended to include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including federal, state, and local governments. In 1964, Congress created the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which was commissioned with the responsibility to also enforce the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Genetic Nondiscrimination Information Act.

For the last 54 years and since the original evolution of the Air Force Social Actions Program – today known as the Air Force Equal Opportunity Program – the Air Force has been a valuable contributor and enforcer of civil rights laws and equality. According to Dr. Brooks Hill and Dr. H. Cummings, “the U.S. Air Force – along with the Department of Defense, often has led our society in efforts to equalize and foster opportunity for its people. With the introduction of social actions, the Air Force launched a major effort to correct injustices. The nature of the problems at the time demanded tactics and strategies which could quickly and strongly curb the racial and social difficulties.” 

Today, with an agency population of approximately 629,484 personnel to include military, DOD civilians, reserve and guard personnel, the Air Force is looked upon as a model agency within the federal government by complying with civil rights laws and EO processes that eradicate unlawful discrimination and racial disparities in the workplace. The Air Force continues to be on the cutting edge of not only processing and managing discrimination complaints, but also educating its personnel on EO matters and promoting professional environments where individuals are treated with dignity, respect and personal worth regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, reprisal, sexual harassment or genetic information. Other services offered under the Alternative Dispute Resolution program, such as mediation and group facilitation also afford personnel with a number of resources to resolve conflict and disputes in the workplace with individuals and/or groups. The EEO program offers two tracks of services for military and civilian DOD employees to resolve discrimination complaints. For more information on the AF EO program and local services provided at Peterson Air Force Base, contact the 21st Space Wing EO office at 719-556-7693.