BY SENATOR PAUL H. DOUGLAS
THE most pressing domestic issue before the country today is similar to that which cried out for attention a century ago when the Atlantic Monthly was founded. Then it was the institution of slavery which prevailed over the Southern half of the country and against which men and women of conscience were revolting. Today it is the legal, political, and educational injustices which the Negroes still suffer all over the country, but more particularly in our eleven Southern states where 60 per cent of the Negroes are congregated and where they form 25 per cent of the population.
When the slaves were freed, they were turned adrift without land, property, or education. They also lacked the traditions of a sound family life. This was bad enough, but many of the Southern states then moved in to reduce the newly freed Negroes to something resembling peonage, by means of vagrancy and apprenticeship laws and a battery of so-called “black codes.” In turn, these furnished an excuse to the radical Republicans of the North to impose military control under the “conquered provinces” theory. New state governments were founded on Negro suffrage and the partial disenfranchisement of active Confederates. As a part of this process, a group of white “carpetbaggers” from the North descended on the South and took over the political guidance of the new regimes. Most of these invaders filled their own pockets, and open graft and debauchery were common among the Negro officials. Political life all over the nation touched rock bottom during this gilded age, and Washington itself, along with Columbia and Baton Rouge, was a sinkhole of corruption.
The desire to protect the Negroes from the whites by national legislation led to the enactment of the 14th Amendment in 1867, the 15th Amendment in 1870, and to a supporting series of federal laws.
While legal attention was for a long time primarily fixed upon the “due process” clause of the 14th Amendment, which was generally interpreted by the courts to forbid legislative interference with the assumed “free contract” between employers and individual workers, students of this amendment have properly concluded that its paramount purpose was to give full citizenship rights to the Negroes. This was provided in the clause that no state should “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” While the voting rights of Negroes were not expressly guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, Section 2 provided that if this right to vote were denied to “male inhabitants” who were citizens and at least twenty-one years of age, then the representation of that state in the national House of Representatives was to be proportionately reduced.
Immediately following the presidential election of 1868, when General Grant and the Republicans won a sweeping victory, Congress passed the 15th Amendment giving direct federal protection to the right to vote. It was now stated in plain language that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment was ratified by the states in 1870 and the armory of constitutional protection was supposedly completed.
SINCE all three of these reconstruction amendments gave to Congress the power to enforce them by “appropriate legislation,” no less than seven such acts were passed during the years from 1866 to 1875. These were designed to protect Negroes from intimidation, to make effective their right to vote, to allow them to hold property and not be subject to forced labor, and to have the full rights of citizens. It was presumed that the federal government would protect these rights from being violated not only by state and local governments, but by private persons as well.
But a reaction set in. The abuses of the reconstruction governments were widely publicized, Northern interest in the Negro slackened, and the Ku Klux Klan rose to power. Finally, in 1877, there came the decisive change. There is little doubt that the Democratic candidate for the presidency, Samuel J. Tilden, actually won the presidential election of 1876. The Republicans, however, provoked electoral contests in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.
Finally, by a straight party vote of the electoral commission which the Republicans dominated, they cast the votes of these states for their candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes was then declared elected by a margin of only one electoral vote. There is clear evidence that this act was preceded by an agreement with some of the leaders of the Southern whites that if these votes were permitted to be cast for Hayes, the Republicans would then withdraw federal troops from the South and permit matters to take their course. Once Hayes was sworn in, this was speedily done. The carpetbag governments were sloughed off, and the Negroes were slowly disenfranchised and ultimately ousted from government.
The Northern interest in the Negro rapidly ebbed in the materialism of the period, and the civil rights statutes were either repealed, declared inapplicable, or ignored.
Then, in the early 1890s, came the Populist uprising. It was once the fashion to regard this as a purely Western movement led by such picturesque figures as Ignatius Donnelly, “Sockless Jerry” Simpson, Mary Ellen Leese, and General Weaver. But for a time, Populism also bade fair to sweep the South. There it was an attempt at political coöperation between the poor white farmers and the more intelligent Negroes.
Although it failed, its near success frightened the prosperous planters and the aristocracy of the South. The big planters now encouraged state after state to pass segregation laws. These had been started earlier in Mississippi and Louisiana and were sanctioned constitutionally in 1896 by the famous Plessy v. Ferguson decision of the Supreme Court. The Court upheld the “equal but separate” provisions of a Louisiana statute which forced segregation on trains. In the words of the Court, “We cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the races in public conveyances is unreasonable.” Continuing, the Court dealt with the contention of the plaintiff that “the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority” and replied:
If this be so; it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.
The sole dissenter from this decision was that vigorous Kentuckian, Justice Harlan. Harlan has been unduly disparaged by Holmes and his followers, but his opinion in this and other cases stamps him as one of the truly great justices. In indignant language, he declared:
There is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.
Protected thus by the Supreme Court, state after state passed similar segregation laws during the next decade. They came to cover the South like a network. The separation of the races was required not only on trains, but also on streetcars, in waiting rooms, places of public amusement, and, of course, in the parks and schools.
By 1905, this segregation of the races had hardened into a fixed pattern. In Atlanta there were Jim Crow elevators and even Jim Crow Bibles. At the same time, the Negroes were disenfranchised by the requirement of poll taxes, requirements that voters must “interpret" the Constitution satisfactorily, and by the “grandfather" clauses barring descendants of slaves from voting. So effectively was this disenfranchisement carried out that, according to Woodward, the number of registered Negro voters in Louisiana fell from 130,000 in 1896 to 1300 in 1907.
By 1920, the Negroes in the South were almost totally disenfranchised, and the sharp separation of the races was not greatly dissimilar from the practices in South Africa today. It might help to reduce the aura of sanctity with which many even now seek to surround Jim Crow if more people could understand its beginnings and development as a political device. It is not a way of life ordained by Holy Writ, as some earnest people appear to believe. It is a custom largely rooted in man-made political schemes.
THE coming of World War I at once created a great demand for labor in the Northern industrial centers and, at the same time, shut off immigration from Europe. This led to a migration of Negroes from the South into such Northern cities as New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago. Bad race riots occurred in my own state of Illinois in both Chicago and East St. Louis, and there was trouble elsewhere. But the Negro migration continued during the 1920s as industry boomed and immigration from abroad was restricted. As the Negro population in the North increased and Negroes acquired the right to vote, they became more of a political force and their needs and aspirations had to be considered by the political parties for the first time since 1877.
The initial effort was an attempt to enact a federal law to check the disgraceful number of lynchings which occurred primarily in the South but occasionally in the North as well. During the ten years from 1910 to 1920, these had amounted to the terrible annual average of sixty-two. Legislation was defeated by prolonged filibusters in the Senate, but the publicity and the growing horror of people in all sections of the country fortunately led to a sharp decline in the number of lynchings and ultimately Lo their virtual disappearance. Since 1950, there have only been six in all, or an average of one a year. This hideous blot upon our country is happily, therefore, almost a thing of the past.
World War II brought well over a million Negroes into the armed forces and large numbers into the war industries of the North, Midwest, and Far West. We were fighting a war which, among other purposes, was for democracy and against the race theories of the Nazis. It was obvious that our treatment of the Negroes, both in the North and South, was contrary to the principles for which we strove.
The conscience of white America was touched as it had not been for seventy years. At the same time, the full coöperation of the Negroes in the war effort became more necessary, and with steady work their economic position markedly improved. From 1930 on, moreover, a larger proportion of the Negroes were receiving better and longer educational training.
All these forces combined to stimulate a more militant demand among the Negroes for improved treatment, and a greater concern for them on the part of the whites.
The results began to be manifest. An increasing number of Negroes were assigned to other than housekeeping jobs in the armed services, and on July 26, 1948, President Truman ordered their full integration into all military units down to the company and the platoon level. Marine officers who had previously been skeptical of the move have told me that this integration paid off in greater combat effectiveness during the Korean War. It is undoubtedly one of the most important forward steps in recent years.
Discrimination in employment, formerly somewhat prevalent against Catholics but in recent times practiced primarily against Negroes and Jews, also came under increasing attack. A federal Fair Employment Practices Commission worked during the war to facilitate the entrance of Negroes into what had hitherto been closed occupations. New York passed a Fair Employment Practices Act outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or color. Other states and cities slowly began to fall in line, and liberal forces within the Northern branch of the Democratic Party pushed for a federal Fair Employment Practices Act and for the abolition of the poll tax by federal action. Such a fair practices bill was brought up for action in 1946, but the South filibustered it to death in the Senate on the pretext that since the daily journal of that body did not contain the morning prayer, no business could properly be conducted! Bills outlawing the poll tax also had been advanced by the Northern liberal Democrats in 1942, 1944, and again in 1946, but met with a similar fate. The filibuster had become the chief weapon of the South in preventing action.
In 1946, President Truman appointed a broadly representative Committee on Civil Rights headed by Charles E. Wilson, the president of General Electric. The report of this committee had an important influence on public opinion and helped to shape many of the measures which have been urged and partially adopted during the last decade.
In 1948, the Democratic Party, after a historic floor fight led by Hubert Humphrey, adopted an advanced platform on civil rights and won both the presidential and congressional elections. This encouraged the hope that the Northern Democrats aided by the liberal Republicans might be able to get some affirmative federal action.
President Truman decided that the necessary preliminary step was to change Rule XXII of the Senate, governing debate, so as to make cloture or limitation of debate somewhat easier. However, this move backfired when a coalition of Southern Democrats and all but a few Republicans combined to make it even harder than before to limit debate. Two thirds of the entire membership of the Senate, or a total of sixty-four, would be required to limit debate instead of two thirds of those present and voting. No cloture at all could be imposed — except by unanimous consent — on any motion to bring up a change in the rules.
AFTER the outlawing in 1915 of the “grandfather” clause in the Quinn case, the disenfranchisement of the Negro had been largely effected by the so-called “white primary” and the poll tax requirement for voting. The legal argument in defense of the white primary was that a political party was like a private club and hence had the right to choose freely who could and who could not belong to it and help to select its candidates. This theory, however, was rejected by the United States Supreme Court in 1944 in the Texas case of Smith v. Allwright and again in 1947 in the South Carolina case of Rice v. Elmon. In these two cases, the Court ruled that primaries were not private affairs but integral parts of the electoral process, and that therefore the protections of the 15th Amendment applied to them. These decisions helped in some degree to open up the Democratic primaries of the South to Negroes.
The poll tax again came under scrutiny. In 1921, every one of the eleven Southern states had such a tax, and failure to pay it disqualified the citizen from voting. In some states the tax was cumulative, so that if it were left unpaid for two or more years, these arrears had to be cleaned up before the citizen could vote. While the poll tax reduced both the white and colored electorate, it weighed most heavily against the Negro. During the next quarter of a century four states, led by North Carolina and followed by Louisiana under Huey Long, Georgia under the progressive leadership of Ellis Arnall, and Florida, abolished this tax. During the last decade, South Carolina and Tennessee have followed suit. There are, therefore, five states which now retain the tax as a prerequisite to voting. These are Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas.
In at least five Southern states — namely, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina — voters must satisfy registrars as to their ability to read the state or federal Constitutions, pass so-called civic tests, name obscure local officials, or pronounce a long list of words to the satisfaction of the registrars.
I have given instance after instance on the floor of the Senate of how these tests are unfairly applied against the Negroes. Thus, a Negro in Mississippi was asked under what form of government we live. He first replied, “A democratic form of government.” This was declared to be wrong. He then stated that we live under“arepublicanform of government.” This also was said to be wrong. In Georgia, a Negro woman in order to qualify was required to “name the ordinary.” In North Carolina, the Negro voters are required to answer eight very difficult questions on the operations of the federal government. Negro college students have been disqualified under the literacy tests for mispronouncing words.
Sometimes these disqualifications have been wholesale and in other cases they have been individual. In Louisiana, Assistant Attorney General Olney has stated that there was in 1956 a widespread purge of Negroes from the registration rolls in no less than six counties — namely, Ouachita, Bienville, Caldwell, De Soto, Grant, and Jackson. Several thousands were thus dropped from the rolls at the instance of the White Citizens Councils.
In Tuskegee, Alabama, where the Negro constituency is on a high economic and cultural level, Negro registration was limited because members of the registration board first resigned and then later purposely prolonged the questioning of the Negroes applying for registration so that there was time to deal with only a few. In Virginia, the registration officials are very frequently women whose offices are in their homes. This naturally frightens most Negroes away.
The Southern Regional Council, a reputable organization composed of leaders from both races, has collected data from field agents in approximately a thousand Southern counties on the numbers of Negroes registered in 1956 and the percentage which they form of the Negroes of voting age.
Only 4 per cent of the eligible Negroes were registered in Mississippi, only 10 per cent in Alabama, and 20 per cent in Virginia. Texas had the best record, with approximately 38 per cent registered, and Louisiana came next with nearly 32 per cent. The general average for eight Southern states was 23 per cent, and this is probably a fairly accurate general figure for the South.
But these are merely figures of the numbers of Negroes registered. Those who actually vote are much fewer. Indifference, to be sure, keeps many back, but the fact that voting by Negroes is frowned on by the dominant white community keeps away many more. Economic coercion, both tacit and open, is a restraining force, while the possibility of physical violence is always present in certain sections. It only takes a few wellpublicized threats to spread a pall of fear over would-be voters.
How much all these factors reduce the number of actual Negro voters cannot be measured. The well-informed Governor Coleman of Mississippi is responsible for the estimate that in Mississippi in 1955 only about 7000 Negroes went to the polls. This was about one third of those registered, or 1.5 per cent of the potential Negro voters. But in the 1956 presidential election, in certain of the big Southern cities such as Norfolk, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and San Antonio, the Negroes did vote in larger numbers and exercised considerable local influence.
WHAT then, were the existing legal remedies available for the protection of the civil and constitutional rights of Negro citizens prior to the passage of the recent act?
There was, in the first place, the right of suit; thus the parents of a child segregated on the basis of race or color in a separate school had the right to sue the local authorities to compel integration. Similar suits could be conducted to invalidate segregation in transportation and recreation, and to restrain election officials from improperly refusing to register Negro voters. Or suits for damages for the deprivation of constitutional rights could be filed by individuals.
But the difficulties in applying these remedies were great. In the first place, the aggrieved Negroes were almost universally poor, weak, and at the bottom of the social ladder in the various communities in which they lived. They could seldom afford the costs of suing local authorities for the protection of their civil rights. The local and state government could and would meet their costs out of governmental funds to which the Negroes as taxpayers would have made their contributions. However, since the Southern towns and states were pledged to carry these cases up to the very top, this meant two or more appeals, so that the cost to a private person of going to the Supreme Court might be close to $5000. This was impossible for all but a few Negroes to pay.
Furthermore, since the Negroes were a socially and economically inferior group throughout the South, if any one Negro started suit, he would be immediately exposed to terrific pressure from the dominant white community. He might lose his job, and his credit was likely to be shut off. In many ways the white man’s displeasure was likely to fall heavily upon him.
Because the individual Southern Negroes were so helpless, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took up the burden of helping to finance the suits and to provide the plaintiffs with commetent legal counsel. By means of pooled contributions from both Northern and Southern Negroes as well as from white sympathizers with their cause, numerous suits in the federal district courts of the deep South were financed and staffed.
Almost without exception, the federal judges — Southern born and trained — ordered compliance with the rulings of the Supreme Court. The localities and states affected, however, almost uniformly appealed these cases to the circuit courts and thence to the Supreme Court. In this way, they gained time and postponed the final decision as to whether they would obey the final rulings of the highest court in the land.
In the meantime, many of the Southern states
— recognizing the significant support to constitutional rights given by the courts in private suits
— moved to shut off outside aid to the beleaguered Negroes. In 1956—1957, five states, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Texas, passed so-called antibarratry statutes. These made it a penal offense subject also to heavy fines for any “outsider” to furnish financial or legal assistance to anyone specifically engaged in a lawsuit. As I write, a similar bill is before the legislature of a sixth state, Alabama.
In these ways, the dominant white society of the South apparently believed that they could prevent the protection of the law from being extended to the Negroes. Once the Negroes could get to the federal courts and carry their cause through the lengthy judicial process, they could be assured of receiving substantially equal justice. But the process of getting there was costly and painful.
The other recourse was by criminal prosecution after the fact under the two remaining civil rights statutes which made it a criminal offense to intimidate any person to prevent him from enjoying his constitutional rights or to deprive any person of such rights on the ground of race or color. There were, however, two vital weaknesses in this procedure. It could be used only after an offense was committed and, hence, had no direct power to prevent such abuses from occurring. Prosecutions after an election, for instance, would not restore the right to vote in that election. Secondly, indictments would have to be obtained from federal grand juries and convictions from petit juries.
When it is remembered that one recalcitrant juryman could prevent conviction on these allwhite or overwhelmingly white federal juries, it can be seen that the prospect for making criminal prosecution an effective deterrent was relatively slight. The fact that the nominal penalties were exceedingly heavy operated in the same direction. There was, therefore, a necessity for devising a legal course of action whereby the government would try to prevent these abuses from occurring. The obvious method was to permit the Department of Justice to start civil suits to protect the constitutional rights of individuals. The way for the government to act was through equity proceedings in which it would seek an injunction horn a federal judge restraining individuals or political bodies from interfering with these constitutional rights. This is the method by which no less than thirty-eight federal statutes are enforced, including most of the antitrust laws and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
But could such a measure get through Congress, and more especially the Senate, where the Southerners were entrenched behind the filibuster and were ensconced in the position of power as chairmen of most of the important committees?
AFTER the parliamentary defeats of 1949-1950, it became apparent, as Arthur Krock of the New York Times observed, that “the Senate was the graveyard of civil rights and Rule XXII was the gravedigger.” A modification of Rule XXII, governing the length of debate, seemed, therefore, to be an essential first step. Adoption of rules is always carried through by the House at the opening of each new Congress, and we believed that it could also be done by the Senate at such times. In doing this, Rule XXII could be so modified as to end the filibuster.
During the interregnum between the expiration of the previous rules and the adoption of the new, the Senate, we contended, would operate under general parliamentary law. This permits the shutting off of debate by means of moving the previous question. If such a motion were carried, the Senate could then proceed to the adoption of a modified Rule XXII.
Although our motion was defeated at the opening of Congress in 1953 and again this year, in retrospect we owe more to the Rule XXII fight than we understood at the time. It created a climate of opinion in which for the first time a meaningful civil rights bill was possible. It placed the Southern Senators in a position in which if they filibustered civil rights to death again, they might stir up so much resentment that Rule XXII would be modified at the next Congress and bring a still stronger civil rights bill.
In April, 1956, the Eisenhower Administration decided to push forward an effective civil rights program and introduced in the House and Senate a bill which brought together a number of provisions previously embodied in bills introduced by Senators Humphrey, Hennings, and other Northern Democrats. There were four main parts of this bill, namely:
1) The creation of a presidentially appointed commission for civil rights with subpoena powers which would study the question for two years and then submit a report.
2) The creation of a civil rights division inside the Department of Justice under the direction of an assistant attorney general, instead of the section in the Criminal Division set up by Attorney General Murphy in 1939.
It is probable that both of these first two steps could have been taken by executive action, but the Administration wanted them formalized by congressional approval.
3) An authorization to permit the attorney general to seek injunctive remedies in federal courts to restrain localities and individuals from violating the civil and constitutional rights of individuals.
It must be admitted that this section of the bill was, in the beginning, imperfectly explained and understood. It was later more widely publicized — as the result of a speech by Senator Russell — that it would permit the Department of Justice to intervene in behalf of children denied the right to attend nonsegregated schools, to protect the right to travel on nonsegregated means of transportation, and to use public facilities such as parks on a nonsegregated basis.
4) An authorization to permit the Department of Justice to seek injunctions before federal courts restraining public officials and individuals from interfering with the right of citizens to vote.
If such injunctions — under either Part 3 or Part 4 — were violated, then the federal judge could impose a penalty for contempt of court. In this case, a jury trial was not required.
A coalition of Northern Democrats and Eisenhower Republicans succeeded in getting this bill passed by the House in the closing days of the 1956 session by a vote of 279 to 126. Despite efforts which Senators Hennings, Lehman, and I made to get the Senate to act directly on this bill, it was sent to the Judiciary Committee, and Congress adjourned. In the congressional elections of the fall, the Republicans made appreciable gains among the Negro voters in the Northern cities, and this increased the desire of many in both parties to push civil rights legislation.
With the coming of the 85th Congress in 1957, effort was redoubled. The Administration’s bill was again introduced, and the House again passed the bill without significant amendment by a vote of 286 to 126. When it came to the Senate, the leadership of the Republican Party, aided by approximately half of the Northern and Western Democrats, succeeded by a series of parliamentary moves in bringing this bill up for direct consideration without referring it to the Judiciary Committee, which had been delaying action for months on the companion measure and which, it was believed, would have buried the House bill.
The Southerners made two fundamental attacks upon the measure. They charged 1) that the federal government should not be given the power to start suit in cases involving Constitutional rights under both Parts 3 and 4, and 2) that the power of a judge to impose sentence for contempt violated the right of a man to be tried before a jury of his peers. The latter claim won a great deal of support. With consummate tactical skill, Senator Johnson, the Democratic leader, persuaded a number of Western Democrats to join the Southerners in moving to eliminate Part 3 from the bill by means of the Anderson-Aiken Amendment. To these were added thirteen Republicans who felt it was going too far for the federal government to protect other than voting rights. The desire to avoid a filibuster that could not be ended under Rule XXII was the clinching cloakroom argument. The vote to eliminate Part 3 was 52 to 38. Thirteen Northern Democrats, however, held fast and joined twenty-five Republicans in seeking to retain this feature.
Senator Johnson then moved on to include a jury-trial provision in the voting rights section of the bill. An amendment was introduced by Senator O’Mahoney which after several revisions provided for jury trials in criminal contempt cases or where compliance with the order of the court was no longer possible because of the passage of time. Cases of civil contempt in which the penalty could be avoided by compliance and in which the violator, therefore, had the key to the jail in his pocket were not, however, to be subjected to jury trial.
Once again Senator Johnson showed his tactical skill. He won over still more Democrats to his side and held a considerable number of Republicans. The jury-trial amendment was adopted by a vote of 51 to 42 — only nine Democrats holding out against it. The Southerners, believing that the bill had been stripped of its most important features, then did not filibuster against its passage, which came by a 72 to 18 vote.
THE Senate vote was hailed in the South as a great victory. And so, indeed, it probably was. But the House had to be reckoned with. Despite efforts to compel the House to accept the Senate version, a limitation of the jury-trial proviso was therefore put forward: namely, that if in criminal contempt cases the federal judge imposed a fine greater than $300 or a jail sentence longer than forty-five days, the defendant in the action then had the right to have his case tried before a jury. Within the limit of these penalties, however, the judge had the right to enforce the dignity of his rulings in criminal contempt proceedings without a jury trial and could do so in all civil contempt cases regardless of the severity of the penalty.
The two leaders of the Democratic Party in Congress, Speaker Rayburn of the House and Senator Johnson, felt it proper to yield, and while nearly all of the Southerners voted against the final measure, it passed the House by a vote of 279 to 97 and the Senate by a vote of 60 to 15.
The final result was reached only after an extremely complex interplay of differences of opinion on legislative tactics and substance, personal political ambitions, competition for partisan political advantage, traditional and new bipartisan coalitions, pleas of civil rights groups not only for improvements in the Senate bill but for completed action at this session of Congress, calculations of possible long-run losses from the use of a filibuster, and the basic concern for human rights.
The dilemma in which Southern Senators were placed following the Rule XXII fight at the beginning of the session certainly played no small part in the passage of the bill. Senator Russell’s frank admission after the bill was passed that at no time was there any collective agreement among Southern Senators to filibuster, their outrage at the twenty-four-hour talkathon by Senator Thurmond, and the absence of a filibuster at any stage of the floor fight support the conclusion that the Southern Senators did not dare to filibuster, but that by the adroit use of a threat of a filibuster the passage of a stronger bill was prevented.
While some have seen in the absence of a filibuster signs of some willingness on the part of Southern Senators to compromise differences over civil rights or to heed the call to party unity, I believe that this view is a false one and that the absence of a filibuster was due more to carefully calculated judgment on the part of Senator Russell and his colleagues as to what was the best method to reduce their losses.
The final agreement would never have been possible without the steadfast pressure of the civil rights advocates in both parties.
What kind of an act then has emerged after eighty-two years of legislative sterility? Is it worthless, or does it herald a new day? In my judgment, it is neither; it is a modest step forward.
The commission, if properly constituted, can have a real influence not only in educating public opinion to the facts of discrimination against Negroes, Mexican-Americans, and Indians but also in suggesting possible remedies. And it is public opinion which in a democracy is in the long run controlling.
It is highly regrettable that Part 3 of the bill was eliminated. In view of the bitter-end resistance in a few states to the Court’s orders in equal protection cases, particularly those involving public schools, and in view of the more subtle evasions in others, simple law and order require Congress to back up the Court and give the executive the authority to do likewise. Had Part 3 been available, the Little Rock crisis might have been headed off.
But in its final form, real protection is thrown around the voting rights of citizens by this new law. Federal attorneys can, if they will, seek injunctions to restrain election officials from refusing to register qualified Negroes and Spanish-speaking Americans, and to prevent coercion from being practiced to stop them from voting. Judges will have the power to put some force behind their rulings. The prospect of a possible moderate fine or short jail sentence should, therefore, serve as a real deterrent to restrain officials and citizens and should lead to a gradual increase in voting by the Negroes and “ Latinos.” Moderate men in the South and Southwest can fall back upon the law as a sufficient reason for not indulging in unfair or coercive tactics.
As the Negroes begin to vote in ever larger numbers, race-baiting in Southern politics should decrease for the simple reason that it will not pay. Candidates and parties will begin to compete for the Negro and Mexican-American vote, and out of this should come more attention to the educational, health, and housing needs of these minority groups and greater respect for their civil and constitutional rights. Our future efforts for legislation to aid equal educational and employment opportunities will be strengthened by the gains made in 1957.
All this will come slowly and not suddenly. But there should be set in motion a gradual increase in the political power of the weak, out of which a greater degree of justice can grow.