A TRAIL OF CIVIL RIGHTS IN THE WHITE HOUSE: ROOSEVELT, TRUMAN, KENNEDY, JOHNSON, NIXON!
I have always thought and I have practiced Black History should be taught 365 days of the year. Since I have been on social media I have discovered there is too much bad information being passed around by the so-called experts on the black community as it relates to our history. They don’t seem to have a clue. It has been more like the blind leading the blind. I am going to use the next 30 days to try to enlighten some and teach others. Several days ago I read where someone was under the impression that President Barack Obama is not allowed to have a black agenda because he is President of all the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. For decades white Presidents have had black agendas. If Roosevelt,Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon didn’t have black agendas there would be no President Barack Obama!
For almost 8 years we have heard over and over again President Barack Obama say “I am the President of all the people” that would be great if everyone was playing on an “Even Playing field.” His supporters have become his echo and can be heard saying the exact same thing! Therefore, they claim he cannot be seen publicly making life better for the poor, the down trodden and people of color in America. Why should he be any different from any other President? Especially, with 1% of the population controlling all the wealth in America and in 2015 a white man’s salary still doubles that of a black man. The Supreme Court recently passed a campaign finance law that further empowers the rich and gives the poor no hope of an “Even Playing Field” in America.
See list below for some Presidents who blazed a Civil Rights trail while in office to improve the lives of people of color while white.
It has been often said “If you want to hide something from a black person put it in a book.” We can now add the World Wide Internet. The information gathered in this blog can be found there.
President Harry Truman
A 1947 report by the Truman administration titled To Secure These Rights presented a detailed ten-point agenda of civil rights reforms. In February 1948, the president submitted a civil rights agenda to Congress that proposed creating several federal offices devoted to issues such as voting rights and fair employment practices. This provoked a storm of criticism from Southern Democrats in the run to the national nominating convention, but Truman refused to compromise, saying: “My forebears were Confederates … but my very stomach turned when I learned that Negro soldiers, just back from overseas, were being dumped out of Army trucks in Mississippi and beaten.”
Instead of addressing civil rights on a case-by-case need, Truman wanted to address civil rights on a national level. He made three executive orders that eventually became a structure for future civil rights legislation. The first Executive Order 9981 came in 1948, is generally understood to be the act that desegregated the armed services. This was a milestone on a long road to desegregation of the Armed Forces. After several years of planning, recommendations and revisions by Truman, the Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity, the various branches of the military, Army units finally became racially integrated.
This process was also helped by the manpower shortages during the Korean War as replacements to previously segregated units could now be of any race.
The second order, also in 1948, made it illegal to discriminate against persons applying for civil service positions based on race. The third executive order, in 1951, established Committee on Government Contract Compliance (CGCC). This committee ensured that defense contractors to the armed forces could not discriminate against a person because of their race.
In retirement however, Truman was less progressive on the issue of race. He described the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches as silly, stating that the marches would not “accomplish a darn thing.” Famous last words. He must be turning over in his grave to now see that historical march being shown on movie screens across America and to see participation of a diverse group of people taking to the streets around the world saying “No” to police brutality in America. “No” to police departments hiding behind a Code of Silence, Blue Wall and a Us Against Them Mentality.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
The New Deal was a series of economic programs implemented in the United States between 1933 and 1936. They were passed by the U.S. Congress during the first term of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The programs were responses to the Great Depression, and focused on what historians call the “3 Rs”: Relief, Recovery, and Reform. That is, Relief for the unemployed and poor; Recovery of the economy to normal levels; and Reform of the financial system to prevent a repeat depression.
His wife Eleanor became an important connection for his administration to the African-American community during the segregation era. She was vocal in her support of the African-American civil rights movement, despite her husband’s need to placate southern sentiment. Mrs. Roosevelt was the Michelle Obama of her day.
She was outspoken in her support of Marian Anderson in 1939 when the black singer was denied the use of Washington’s Constitution Hall and was instrumental in the subsequent concert held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The first lady played a role in racial affairs when she appointed Mary McLeod Bethune as head of the Division of Negro Affairs. She was seen in New York City in support of black Civil Rights leader Rev. Joseph DeLaine. It was Rev. DeLaine and his friend Harry Briggs who led the fight against segregation in the Clarendon, South Carolina school system in 1949. The Biggs vs Elliot was the forerunner of Brown vs Board of Education. Rev. DeLaine had to flee Clarendon, SC after his church was burned to ground. The KKK tried to ambush his family while they slept in their home. He surprised them and returned their gun fire. The next morning the sheriff took out a warrant for his arrest for attempted murder.
President John F. Kennedy
The turbulent end of state-sanctioned racial discrimination was one of the most pressing domestic issues of the 1960s. The Supreme Court of the United States had ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Still many schools, especially in southern states, did not obey the Supreme Court’s decision. Segregation had also been prohibited by the Court at other public facilities (e.g. buses, restaurants, theaters, courtrooms, bathrooms, and beaches) but continued nonetheless. Alabama and Mississippi in 2017 still have the most segregated school system in America.
Kennedy verbally supported racial integration and civil rights; during his 1960 campaign he telephoned Coretta Scott King, wife of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King had been jailed while demonstrating for equal access for African-Americans. Kennedy secured the early release of King, which drew additional black support to his candidacy.
Nevertheless, President Kennedy believed the grass roots movement for civil rights would anger many Southern whites and make it more difficult to pass civil rights laws in Congress, which was dominated by conservative Southern Democrats. He distanced himself from the movement. He also was more concerned with other issues early in his presidency, e.g. the “Bay of Pigs” fiasco and Southeast Asia. As articulated by brother Robert, the administration’s early priority was to “keep the President out of this civil rights mess”. As a result, many civil rights leaders viewed Kennedy as lukewarm, especially concerning the Freedom Riders who organized an integrated public transportation effort in the south, and were repeatedly met with violence by whites, including law enforcement both federal and state.
Kennedy assigned federal marshals to protect the Freedom Riders as an alternative to using federal troops or uncooperative FBI agents. Robert Kennedy, speaking for the President, urged the Freedom Riders to “get off the buses and leave the matter to a peaceful settlement in the courts.
In September 1962, James Meredith enrolled at the University of Mississippi, but was prevented from entering. Attorney General Robert Kennedy responded by sending 400 U. S. Marshall. President Kennedy reluctantly federalized and sent 3,000 troops after the situation on campus turned violent. Campus Riots left two dead and dozens injured, but Meredith did finally enroll in his first class. On November 20, 1962, Kennedy signed Executive Order 11063, prohibiting racial discrimination in federally supported housing or “related facilities.”
In early 1963, Kennedy made Martin Luther King, Jr. aware as it related to the prospects for civil rights legislation. He said, “If we get into a long fight over this in Congress, it will bottleneck everything else, and we will still get no bill.” Still, civil rights clashes were very much on the rise that year.
His brother Robert and Ted Sorenson pressed Kennedy to take more initiative on the legislative front. On June 11, 1963, President Kennedy intervened when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the doorway to the University of Alabama to stop two African American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from attending. Wallace moved aside only after being confronted by Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard. The guard had just been federalized by order of the President, hours earlier they had been under Wallace’s command.
That evening Kennedy gave his famous civil rights address on national television and radio, launching his initiative for civil rights legislation – to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights. His proposals became part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The day ended with the murder of N.A.A.C.P. leader, Megar Evers, at his home in Mississippi. As the president had predicted, the day after his TV speech, and in reaction to it, House Majority leader Carl Albert called to advise him that his two year signature effort in Congress to combat poverty in Appalachia (Area Redevelopment Administration) had been defeated, primarily by the votes of Southern Democrats and Republicans.
Kennedy signed the executive order creating the Presidential Commission on the status of Women on December 14, 1961. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt led the commission. The Commission statistics revealed that women were also experiencing discrimination; their final report documenting legal and cultural barriers was issued in October 1963. Earlier, on June 10, 1963, Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a federal law amending the Fair Labor Standards Act, aimed at abolishing wage disparity based on sex.
Over a hundred thousand, predominantly black Americans gathered in Washington for the civil rights March on Washington for jobs and freedom on August 28, 1963. Kennedy feared the March would have a negative effect on the prospects for the civil rights bills in Congress, and declined an invitation to speak. He turned over some of the details of the government’s involvement to the Dept. of Justice, which channeled hundreds of thousands of dollars to the six sponsors of the March, including the N.A.A.C.P. and Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). To ensure a peaceful demonstration, the organizers and the President personally edited speeches which were inflammatory and agreed the March would be held on a Wednesday and would be over at 4:00 pm Thousands of troops were placed on standby.
Kennedy watched King’s speech on TV and was very impressed. The March was considered a “triumph of managed protest”, and not one arrest relating to the demonstration occurred. Afterwards, the March leaders accepted an invitation to the White House to meet with Kennedy and photos were taken. Kennedy felt the March was a victory for him as well and bolstered the chances for his Civil Rights bill.
Nevertheless, the struggle was far from over. Three weeks later, a bomb exploded on a Sunday at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham; at the end of the day 4 little girls had died in the explosion and aftermath. As a result of this resurgent of violence, the civil rights legislation underwent some drastic amendments that critically endangered any prospects for passage of the bill, to the outrage of the President.
Kennedy called the congressional leaders to the White House and by the following day the original bill, without the additions, had enough votes to get it out of the House committee.
In 1963, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who hated civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and viewed him as an upstart troublemaker, presented the Kennedy Administration with allegations that some of King’s close confidants and advisers were communist. The President was concerned that the allegations, if made public, would derail the Administration’s civil rights initiatives. Robert Kennedy and the President both warned King to discontinue the suspected associations. But after the associations continued, Robert Kennedy felt compelled to issue a written directive authorizing the FBI to wiretap King and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s civil rights organization.
Although Kennedy only gave written approval for limited wiretapping of King’s phones “on a trial basis, for a month or so,” Hoover extended the clearance so his men were “unshackled” to look for evidence in any areas of King’s life they deemed worthy. The wire tapping continued through June 1966 and was revealed in 1968.
President Lyndon B. Johnson
In conjunction with the civil rights movement, Johnson overcame southern resistance and convinced Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed most forms of racial segregation. John F. Kennedy originally proposed the civil rights bill in June 1963.
He called the congressional leaders to the White House in late October 1963 to line up the necessary votes in the House for passage. After Kennedy’s death, it was Johnson who picked up the torch and pushed the bill through the Senate. Johnson signed the revised and stronger bill into law on July 2, 1964. Legend has it that, as he put down his pen to paper, Johnson told an aide, “We have lost the South for a generation”, anticipating a coming backlash from Southern whites against Johnson’s Democratic Party.
In 1965, he achieved passage of a second civil rights bill, the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in voting, thus allowing millions of southern blacks to vote for the first time. In accordance with the act, several states, “seven of the eleven southern states of the former confederacy” – Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Virginia — were subjected to the procedure of pre-clearance in 1965, while Texas, home to the majority of the black American population at the time, followed in 1975.
After the murder of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, Johnson went on television to announce the arrest of four Ku Klux Klansmen implicated in her death. He angrily denounced the Klan as a “hooded society of bigots,” and warned them to “return to a decent society before it’s too late.” Johnson was the first President to arrest and prosecute members of the Klan since Ulysses S. Grant 93 years earlier. He turned the themes of Christian redemption to push for civil rights, thereby mobilizing support from churches North and South.
During a Howard University commencement address on June 4, 1965, he said that both the government and the nation needed to help achieve those goals:
“We have to shatter forever not only the barriers of law and public practice, but the walls which bound the condition of many by the color of his skin. To dissolve, as best we can, the antique enmities of the heart which diminish the holder, divide the great democracy, and do wrong — great wrong — to the children of God.” In 1967, Johnson nominated civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall to be the first African American Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
We seem to have forgotten that it was President Johnson who appointed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission in 1967. The Commission was appointed to look into and investigate the causes of the 1967 race riots in America. The objective of the Commission was to provide recommendations for the future. The Kerner Commission was headed by lllinois Governor Otto Kerner.
The Commission’s fact finding efforts discovered the America was headed for two different societies, one black and one white. President Johnson who had already pushed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act said, “Enough is enough” and threw up his hands and ignored the report and rejected the Kerner Commission’s recommendations, as did the NAACP, Urban League, and the soon to be Congressional Black Caucus on the Hill comprised of black politicians.
American leadership both black and white sit on their collected hands and did absolutely nothing. Now as predicted the two different societies, one black and one white and Donald Trump had nothing to do with it.
In 1968, the Nixon years witnessed the first large-scale integration of public schools in the South. Nixon sought a middle ground between the segregationist Wallace and liberal Democrats, whose support of integration was alienating some Southern whites. Hopeful of doing well in the South in 1972, he sought to dispose of desegregation as a political issue before then. Soon after his inauguration, he appointed Vice President Spiro Agnew to lead a task force, to work with local leaders—both white and black—to determine how to integrate local schools. President Nixon appointed Vice-President Agnew to head the effort but the Vice-President had little interest in the work, and most of it was done by Labor Secretary George Shultz.
Federal aid was available, and a meeting with President Nixon was a possible reward for compliant committees. By September 1970, fewer than ten percent of black children were attending segregated schools. But by 1971, however, tensions over desegregation surfaced in Northern cities, with angry protests over the busing of children to schools outside their neighborhood to achieve racial balance. Nixon opposed busing personally but did not subvert court orders requiring its use.
In addition to desegregating public schools, Nixon implemented the Philadelphia Plan in 1970—the first significant federal affirmative action program. He also endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment after it passed both houses of Congress in 1972 and went to the states for ratification. Nixon had campaigned as an ERA supporter in 1968, though feminists criticized him for doing little to help the ERA or their cause after his election, though he appointed more women to administration positions than Lyndon Johnson had.
There is a lot pain and frustrations in the black community with the likes of designated spoke persons such as, Oprah, Michael Dyson, Cornell West, Tavis Smiley, Steve Harvey, Joe Madison, and Al Sharpton. There is no meeting of the minds willing to sit down together.
They all have the same problem, hidden agendas and giant egos. Instead of being INCLUSIVE they are busy being EXCLUSIVE and have no creative ideas of their own to include the community at-large. Oprah to give credit where some credit is due to some extent has reached back by coming up with a Book Club, using her TV network and magazine as vehicles to improve the lives of others. The club opened some doors for aspiring black authors who would have never been heard.
She traveled to Africa to open an all girl’s school it was another brilliant idea but charity should always start at home. Her hometown of Chicago (or Mississippi) would have been a great place to start and then the next stop Africa!
If you carefully checkout the credentials of today’s media know it alls, they only became experts on the black community after they became on air and print media personalities. Starting out they knew absolutely nothing about the war zones of their own community.
A good example; Harvard Law Professor Randy Kennedy as it relates to his wishing he had spend more time speaking to the mass incarcerating of men of color. There is one thing I know, his parents exposed him and his siblings to the real “Game Called Life” from the very beginning. The Bill Cosby Show on NBC could have easily been the Kennedy household in Washington, DC. Henry and Rachel Kenny were definitely the Cosbys of NW DC.
Randy Kennedy has forgotten his early teachings, but I would still bet on him in a black horse race against many of today’s front-runners on civil rights.
In summarizing what has gone wrong in our community I always refer back to a 60 minute interview with the founder of the Dance Theater of Harlem’s, Arthur Mitchell. In the interview about the financial struggles of his theater and a lack of support from blacks, Morley Safer asked him if he was angry! He did not miss a beat, Mitchell responded, “You show me a black person who is not angry about the status of black America and I will show you a black man and woman who need to see a psychiatrist.”
Our problems run deep and we have to look no further then the mirror on the wall.
In January 2017 as we continue to fight for the Even Playing Field we must remember that the poor state of Black America does not fall all on the shoulders of Barack Obama or Donald Trump.
According to a published story in USA Today newspaper dated August 15, 2012 “Just 61 bills have become law to date out of 3,914 bills that have been introduced by lawmakers, or less than 2% of all proposed laws, according to a USA analysis of records since 1947 kept by the U. S. House Clerk’s office.
In 2011, after Republicans took control of the House, Congress passed just 90 bills into law. The only other year in which Congress failed to pass at least 125 laws was 1995.
These stats make the 112th Congress, covering 2011-2012 the least productive two-year gathering on Capitol Hill since the end of World War II. Not even the 80th Congress, which President Truman called the “Do nothing Congress in 1948, passed as few laws as the one in 2012, records show.”
In 2017 Minority American voters were caught between a rock and hard place, a do nothing Congress on both sides of the aisle and what too many consider a “Do nothing President!”
It does not matter your feelings as it relates to President Barack Obama, the bottom line—the answer was definitely not Mitt Romney in November 2012. As President Obama prepares to head off into the sunset of retirement, the future does not look bright with the Republicans controlling both houses of congress and President Donald Trump in the White House for the next 4 years–fasten your seat belts. Wake up everybody!