By Marshall Garvey
Among President Nixon’s many underrated accomplishments, perhaps his greatest is his substantial legacy in civil rights. While the movement’s defining laws, The Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965), were signed by President Lyndon Johnson, President Nixon advanced many critical developments during his time in office. Most significantly, he tremendously accelerated integration in public schools, even over a decade after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Going against the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of busing in 1971, he pursued sensible legislation that peacefully integrated schools. As a result, 98 percent of black children were enrolled in integrated schools by 1972.
President Nixon’s most unique accomplishment in civil rights, however, was his advocacy for the Minority Business Enterprise program. Like his other domestic initiatives, President Nixon sought to address aiding minority businesses in a way that was prudent, necessary, and promoted self-initiative. As the President remarked, “Opening wider the doors of opportunity to one-sixth of our people is a social necessity, which responds to an imperative claim on our conscience. It is also an economic necessity.”
Much like his proposed income plan of 1969, Nixon sought to help people in need without creating a culture of dependency. “The best way to fight poverty and to break the vicious circle of dependence and despair which affects too many Americans,” the President told Congress, “is by fostering conditions which encourage those who have been so afflicted to play a more self-reliant and independent economic role.” President Nixon observed that minority businessmen needed more investment capital, as well as increased technical assistance, training, and promotion if they wanted to succeed. Thus, he created the Minority Business Enterprise program, which provided critical funds to businesses while still fostering cooperation from the private sector.
As a result of the program, supervised by Commerce Secretary Maurice Stans, total government assistance to minority businesses more than doubled. Government contracts to qualifying businesses boomed from $8 million to $242 million. Most resoundingly, receipts from black-owned enterprises jumped from $4.5 billion in 1968 to $7.26 billion in 1972. By 1974, two-thirds of the 100 largest black enterprises had been started during the Nixon Administration.
In today’s struggling economy, in which many debate whether to increase or cut government spending, poverty among African Americans is once again an urgent issue. True to his balanced and pragmatic approach to domestic affairs, President Nixon found a way to address it in the most sensible way.