September 9th will come and go with little – if any – notice in the media. Congress might be in session but I doubt anybody there will recognize the date. There should be a resolution in Congress and I hope someone reads this and makes that happen.
Why all the fuss? September 9th is not a big date in history is it? Well, September 9th, 1957 IS a big date in history- particularly Civil Rights history.
After a long a winding road- and after some brilliant moves by Vice President Richard Nixon- President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the first Civil Rights Bill since Reconstruction. Let me repeat that- since Reconstruction.
Why is this law ignored? Well there are a few reasons.
- It was a Republican Bill
- Richard Nixon played a key role in its passage
- LBJ tried to kill the bill and then weaken in when that failed
In short, the facts don’t fit the narrative of the media or court historians.
As the bill made its way through the Senate- Vice President Nixon made a ruling from the chair that the bill did not have to go through committee. The committee was headed by a segregationist in the Democratic Party. The Senate upheld Vice President Nixon’s ruling- despite majority leader Lyndon Johnson’s NO vote. Johnson hoped the bill would die in committtee.
With the bill on the floor, Johnson worked hard to gut the bill of its strongest protections for African-Americans. He was successful in many ways. Despite gutting sections three and four that would have offered strong protections to Black voters- the bill passed. And it was historic. A separate division was set up in the Department of Justice and a Civil Rights Commission was established. This bill marked the end of The Nadir- and in a sense- the Radical Republicans- were smiling from above. The Federal Government would- once again- take an active role in protecting the rights of African Americans.
Martin Luther King Jr. personally thanked Vice President Nixon.
The bill was not perfect but a necessary step forward that President Eisenhower knew he had to take. Vice President Nixon- an honorary member of the NAACP- was one of the leaders in the White House working on the bill.
Nixon would use this experience later as President as he started initiatives on Sickle Cell Anemia, and drug treatment. Most importantly – he would help desegregate a vast majority of Southern Public Schools using Cabinet Level Committees. Listen to George Schultz talk about this amazing feat and you will wonder why and how this can be ignored as well.
The idea of President Eisenhower as feckless on Civil Rights does not stand up to the evidence. He was a leader who used Vice President Nixon to carry the workload for 8 years. We owe it to history to tell this story and remember it correctly.
I urge Congress to pass a resolution of thanks to Ike and Dick for they did for the cause of Civil Rights.