Civil Rights in the Eisenhower and Kennedy Presidencies
Striving for Equal Rights
Since the early history of the United State of America, discrimination of foreigners has been a main component. While many people were busy forgetting that American citizens were the original foreigners invading the land of indigenous peoples, they were also doing anything and everything to deny basic human rights to minorities like African-Americans. From personal freedom, voting rights, and full citizenship, African-Americans in the United States were constantly trying to catch up with the rest of the nation. As the Civil War was looming, tensions grew over the issue of slavery. After the abolishment of slavery by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War it was believed that the rights of African-Americans were going to greatly improve. However, it took decades before full rights would be extended to African-Americans through the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The journey of full rights for African-Americans was a long and hard road. Many people suffered, were seriously injured, and even died in their fight for full rights.
Throughout the fight for African-American rights there were many important events. From trials at all court levels, to boycotts, as well as demonstrations and marches African-Americans and even whites stuck together to make it clear that change was coming, whether the United States liked it or not. Some key events were the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Montgomery bus boycott, the incident of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the March on Washington. Before President D. Eisenhower went into office, there had been a few key moments in the history of African-American rights. First the separate-but-equal doctrine that had been confirmed through the Plessy case of 1896 allowed for inequality in the way people were treated in all areas of life based on factors such as race. In the 1930’s however, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sought to improve the lives of African-Americans through targeting higher education. Though it took some years, in 1950 the case of Sweatt v. Painter determined that black law schools and white law schools in Texas were not of an equal quality. The state was then required to fix this problem, which was a big step towards equality in education for African-American citizens of the United States. Before this case however, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order 8802 to begin the Fair Employment Practices Commission which removed race discrimination from hiring and employment opportunities. In 1948, President Truman issued another executive order, 9981, removing segregation from the armed forces. Each of these events played a part in the lead up to what we know today as the Civil Rights movement.
The Eisenhower Years
President Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected for his first term in 1952, and for his second in 1956. During him second term, the Civil Rights movement began to boil. A very important starting point in the Civil Rights movement was the decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The courts declared in this case that in public education, “separate-but-equal has no place…separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." With this, the NAACP was making even further strides in their goals for equal educational opportunities. In 1957, when black students tried to attend a previously all white school in Little Rock, Arkansas, the governor sent out the National Guard to stop them. Upon hearing the news, Eisenhower sent 1000 paratroopers to escort the African-American students and to keep them safe. In reaction, the governor Faubus closed schools for the academic school year of 1958-1959. In the years 1955 to 1957 there was a bus boycott started in reaction to Rosa Parks arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white man. This came to be known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
The Kennedy Years
During Kennedy’s presidency there were also some major events of the Civil Rights Movement. Kennedy was elected president in the election of 1960. In 1961 people came together to ride buses down south and protest segregation and inequality of African-American citizens. This came to be known as the Freedom Riders. In 1962, President Kennedy assisted an African-American student, James Meredith, in going to the University of Mississippi to enroll in classes. Martin Luther King Junior, a very important member of the Civil Rights movement, had always supported nonviolent protest of the inequality of African-Americans. However, in Birmingham, Alabama, King realized that his protests could provoke violence from others, and therefore provide a clear view for the rest of the nation just how violent people were towards African-Americans. President Kennedy forced Alabama governor, Wallace, to allow the enrollment of black students in white schools after the governor promised “segregation today, tomorrow, and forever,” in 1963. That same year however, President Kennedy was assassinated.
Evaluating the Presidencies and the Civil Rights Movement
When considering the actions of presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, it seems that they had an equal part to play in supporting the Civil Rights movement. This isn’t completely true though. During Eisenhower’s presidency, he did strongly support civil rights for all. And during his second term he certainly did what he could to support that. Kennedy on the other hand was more hesitant on the issue. In reality, it was because of his brother, Robert, that President Kennedy supported civil rights as much as he did. Most of his actions were at the advisement and pleas of Robert Kennedy. While this doesn’t mean that he wasn’t supportive of equal rights for African-Americans, it does help show how differently each president approached the issue.
The United States took a hard road towards equal rights. While the times were rough and fighting ensued, people continued to stick through and fight for their rights. People like Martin Luther King Junior became key figures in this battle of rights and inspired all kinds of people, black and white and otherwise to come together for a great good. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy both gave their support to the Civil Rights movement, but not for the same reasons. Robert Kennedy was the real power behind President Kennedy’s support of civil rights. In 1964, though after the assassination of President Kennedy, we saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act, supported strongly by President Lyndon Johnson. Though the Civil Rights Act wasn’t the complete end of the African-American’s movement, it outlawed discrimination and segregation and guaranteed equal employment opportunities. These laws weren’t only geared towards African-Americans though, they supported all people of any race or ethnicity. Without the Civil Rights movement, we may have still been experiencing great inequality today for many people.