The summer of 1963—remembered mostly for the March on Washington—was marked in the construction industry by the arrival of affirmative action. I don't believe I had ever heard the term before, but its entry into our lives was truly dramatic and, a half century later, worth recalling now. In New York City, starting in mid-June
and lasting for a full five months, work was halted on the $25-million annex being built for Harlem Hospital. Pickets, alleging discrimination against blacks and Puerto Ricans in the construction trades, introduced a chant that was taken up by members of a gathering crowd: "If we don't work, nobody works!" When scuffles broke out involving the police and increased violence was threatened, a stop order arrived from City Hall. In November, Mayor Robert Wagner (D) finally permitted activity to resume at the site, saying he had received assurance from the contractor that "a very substantial number of minority-group members" would be hired.