1941 FDR issued Executive Order 8802 banning discrimination in employment by the federal government and defense contractors.
1954 In the landmark case Brown vs. the Board of Education; local, state, and federal ordinances enforcing segregation are declared unconstitutional.
1961 In Executive Order 10952 JFK first introduced the phrase “affirmative action” and established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). JFK favored a weak form of affirmative action that involved eliminating discrimination and expanding educational and employment opportunities.
1964 The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is passed. The intent of Title VI and VII is to “effect a redistribution of social, political, and economic benefits and to provide legal remedies for the denial of individual rights.” It prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
1965 Lyndon Johnson gave the Department of Labor responsibility for enforcing affirmative action.
1971 In Swann vs. Charlotte-Mecklenburg the court ruled that schools should attempt to have the racial make-up public schools reflect the racial make-up of the district as a whole. Critics of this decision first used the phrase “racial quota.”
1971 The Labor Department’s Revised Order No. 4 declared employers with? Employees and $50,000 in government business must develop “specific goals and timetables” to correct for the underutilization of women and minority workers or face the loss of government business.
1972 Amendments to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extended the EEOC’s oversight to employers and unions with over fifteen members and to all state, local, and federal government employees. This amendment gave greater recognition to systematic discrimination rather than focusing on individual cases as had been done in the past.
1981 Reagan took office. He was against affirmative action so he cut the EEOC’s budget and appointed anti-affirmative action executives (William Bradford Reynolds, Clarence Pendelton, Jr., and Clarence Thomas) as well as anti-affirmative action Supreme Court Justices (Scalia, and Kennedy).

Sources: Emily Williams, OFCCP and EEOC.