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DO IT FOR YOUR DEAD PRESIDENT! -The 1964 Civil Rights Act- (Part 2) Let Us Continue

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    We meet in grief, but let us also meet in renewed dedication and renewed vigor. Let us meet in action, in tolerance, and in mutual understanding. John Kennedy's death commands what his life conveyed-that America must move forward. The time has come for Americans of all races and creeds and political beliefs to understand and to respect one another. So let us put an end to the teaching and the preaching of hate and evil and violence. Let us turn away from the fanatics of the far left and the far right, from the apostles of bitterness and bigotry, from those defiant of law, and those who pour venom into our nation's bloodstream.”-LBJ, Nov. 27, 1963 (“Let Us Continue,” Lyndon Baines Johnson 2010)

    The assassination of Kennedy―and Johnson's subsequent immolation of Kennedy's death as a martyr for everything that is good and decent in the American character―did little to persuade Chairman Smith. As detailed by Guéron, proponents of H.R.7152 had three options to prevent its death in the House Rules Committee:

    1. House Rule XXVII (the discharge petition):

    “Liberal Democrats began with the first method. On Dec. 9, 1963, Rep. Celler filed a discharge petition, which was promptly signed by one hundred other members of the House. Republican Representatives alleged that the petition was merely an attempt to embarrass Republicans who had not signed it, and responded to the effort by arguing for bringing H.R.7152 to the House floor as soon as possible under Calendar Wednesday.”

    2. House Rule XXVI (Calendar Wednesday): “Under Calendar Wednesday rules, a committee member could call up to the floor and members could vote on any unprivileged bill, thus avoiding roadblocks set up within a committee. Striking back politically, Republicans publicly urged those Democrats who truly wanted to pass civil rights legislation to use Calendar Wednesday to call up H.R.7152 on Dec. 11, the soonest available date. As both the Republicans and the bill's supporters well knew, however, Calendar Wednesday procedure contained provisions that would have sunk H.R.7152. Because House Rule XXIV required that a bill be disposed of by the end of the legislative day, any bill raised under Calendar Wednesday could fall victim to delaying tactics by opponents.”

    3. House Rule XI: If three members of a committee called for a hearing, the committee clerk was obligated to schedule hearing, if the committee was not convened after seven days. After the Democrats refused to support Calendar Wednesday rules, the Republicans accused the Democrats of stalling in “bad faith” and painted their refusal to move forward under Calendar Wednesday rules, as evidence that the liberals were not as committed to civil rights as the Republicans. A political deadlock ensued, until the Rules Committee's ranking minority member Rep. Clarence J. Brown (R-OH) signaled his intention to break with Chairman Smith, and support the liberals' use of House Rule XI to force Chairman Smith to move forward with hearings on HR.7152, beginning on Jan. 6, 1964 (Guéron 1995, 1216-1218).

    While the House debated the discharge petition of Rep. Celler, as explained by Fisher and Gittinger in “LBJ Champions the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Part 2,” on Dec. 1, President Johnson met with the publisher of the Washington Post, Katharine Graham to enlist the press in coming to the aid of the liberals on the Rules Committee by running articles critical of those opposed to Rep. Celler's maneuverings. Soon, “an unlikely coalition emerged on the Rules Committee consisting of liberal Democrats, moderate and liberal Republicans, and a single conservative Midwesterner, Rep. Brown.”

    Controlling a significant portion of GOP votes, Rep. Brown broke with Chairman Smith in a power play move seeking to seize the opening created by gaping Democratic divisions, by threatening to support the removal of the chairman from power, if he did not relent to hearings on H.R.7152 (Fisher and Gittinger 2004, Part 2).

    From Jan. 6. to Jan. 30, the House Rules Committee debated H.R.7152. Twenty-nine Southern Representatives testified in opposition, but they eventually ran out of witnesses, leaving Chairman Smith unable to thwart a final vote. By 11 to 4, with only the Southern Democrats opposing, H.R.7152 finally made it out of the House Rules Committee and headed to the House floor (Guéron 1995, 1218). Although the bill's opponents flooded the House floor with amendments designed to weaken the bill, none of them passed. In an attempt to radicalize the legislation beyond what moderate and conservative Republican members would support, Chairman Smith added an amendment to extend Title VII's provisions against discrimination to sex. However, this move backfired: instead of derailing the legislation, it survived to become law (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1468). After ten days of debate, with Rep. Celler and Rep. McCulloch successfully working together to herd their bipartisan coalition out on the the floor votes to defeat weakening amendments, on Feb. 10, the House passed H.R.7152 by a vote of 290 to 130 (Guéron 1995, 1219).

    Brought to the Senate on Feb. 17 (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Rights: Legislative History of H.R.7152: Bill Introduced in Senate, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006), majority leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) moved on Feb. 26 to place H.R.7152 directly on the Senate calendar, bypassing the Judiciary Committee completely (Loevy 1985, 415-416). By grounding the bill in Congressional authority to regulate Interstate Commerce instead of the Fourteenth Amendment, civil rights proponents successfully blocked arguments pertaining to the authority of Chairman Eastland's Judiciary Committee (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1469). While Senate rules permit the bypassing of committee structure for bills before its consideration, the tactic is rarely employed (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Rights: Legislative History of H.R.7152: Bill Introduced in Senate, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006). As Guéron describes in detail, despite objections that a committee assignment was “vital,” Mansfield's motion passed by a vote of 54-37 and the bill was placed on the Senate calender. Utilizing Senate Rule VII―which allowed a motion for a bill to be scheduled for consideration, without any debate on the schedule, but only during the “morning hour, a two-hour period at the start of the legislative day”―Mansfield hoped to introduce H.R.7152 on March 9, but it was blocked by the “mini-filibuster” of Sen. Richard B. Russell (D-GA); and thus, the majority leader's subsequent motion for a call up was subject to its first Southern Democratic filibuster, which lasted until March 26 (Guéron 1995, 1219-20).

    For 16 days, the Senate debated the motion to approve a schedule for consideration of H.R.1752, without a committee assignment. Finally, “on March 26, the Senate voted 67 to 17 to move towards formal consideration of the legislation” (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Rights: Legislative History of H.R.7152: Committees Bypassed, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006), with the subsequent motion by Sen. Wayne More (D-OR) to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee also defeated (Guéron 1995, 1220). On March 30, H.R.1752 moved to the floor of the Senate, and the “extended Southern filibuster began” (Lovey 1985, 415-416), following a three hour, eleven-minute, 68 paged speech by Sen. Humphrey by his own hand in defense of H.R.7152 (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Rights: Legislative History of H.R.7152: From Filibuster to Cloture, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006).


    As Loevy describes, LBJ was uniquely fitted for the task at hand: “Unlike Kennedy, who had been something of an outsider when he was in the House and the Senate, Lyndon Johnson had been the Senate majority leader when he was elected vice-president in 1960. Johnson thus was a congressional insider, a man with a detailed knowledge of the way things work on Capitol Hill and with an abundance of contacts and friendships. President Kennedy's funeral was hardly ended when the telephones began ringing in the House of Representatives. Members of Congress in key positions began hearing first-hand from the president about how he wanted the civil rights bill moved out of the House Rules Committee and on to the House floor” (Lovey 1985, 413-414).

    Instinctively, Johnson arranged with Sen. Mansfield in early 1964 to allow the bona-fide civil rights advocate and majority whip, Sen. Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) to co-marshal the Senate floor management of H.R.7152, so as to prevent another mutiny from the left by putting one of their own in the driver seat capable of accepting the compromises necessary to lure enough Republican support to invoke cloture in the Senate without significantly watering down the bill (Fisher and Gittinger 2004, Part 2).

    As John F. Manley describes in “The Civil Rights Act of 1964,” at few times in our history has the Senate “been more organized or more tightly controlled than during the long months it debated the Civil Rights Act.” Led by Sen. Richard Russell (D-GA), the Southern bloc organized its “platoon system,” featuring “two platoons of six Democrats each,” with the lead platoon also featuring the only Republican member of the southern bloc. Assigning “six teams of six Senators each the task of obtaining a quorum at all times,” Humphrey sought to meet the physical challenge posed by the Southern bloc head on. With a quorum maintained by pro-civil rights forces at all times, the southerners would be forced to exert more energy to block a vote from taking place. With such a large team to organize, a buddy system was adopted and “a close watch was kept on out-of-town trips and engagements. Humphrey aides even published a newsletter” (Manley 1965, 11).

    As the Senate debate over H.R.7152 unfolded, the Southern bloc's main objections to the legislation became quite clear. In short, they opposed:

    1.) “the cut-off of federal funds projects that discriminated against African Americans,”(Title VI), and 2.) “the provision for fair employment practices enforcement.”(Tile VII).

    However, many Republican “swing” senators, shared the southerners concerns about the impact of Title VII on “business, particularly small business. Even in states with no racial problem, the prospect of making employers comply with the law seemed to many Republicans to be an unwarranted expansion of federal power” (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Right: Legislative History of H.R.7152: Senate Floor Debate: Senate Debate, "The Long Hard Furrow", The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006).

    Furthermore, as the Dirksen Congressional Center also points out, many in the Southern bloc feared they would lose their jobs “if they voted for equal rights for African Americans.” By holding up consideration of the bill from March into June, the Southerners hoped that the possible success of segregationist George Wallace in the Democratic presidential primaries would demonstrate that the bill was unwanted by a large enough sector of the voting public to warrant its abandonment in the Senate. As such, “only by forcing cloture could they demonstrate to their constituents that they had fought to the end against hopeless odds” (CongressLink: [Congress: The Basics―Lawmaking] Civil Right: Legislative History of H.R.7152: Senate Floor Debate: Leadership Strategy, The Dirksen Congressional Center 2006).

    As Loevy notes, “President Johnson saw from the very first that Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) was the key to getting the civil rights bill out of the Senate. Shortly after President Kennedy's assassination, Johnson telephoned Dirksen and asked him to convey to his Republican colleagues in the Senate that the time had come to forget partisan politics and get the legislative machinery of the United States moving forward” (Lovey 1985, 417). Johnson's orders to Humphrey regarding Dirksen, were quite clear: “Now you know that bill can't pass unless you get Ev Dirksen. You and I are going to get Ev. . . . You make up your mind now that you've got to spend time with Ev Dirksen. You've got to play to Ev Dirksen. You've got to let him have a piece of the action. He's got to look good all the time” (Gittinger and Fisher 2004, Part 2).

    Manley categorized the challenges faced by Sen. Humphrey into “two separate but interrelated problems”:

    1. The parliamentary skill of a “tight band of 18 Southern Democrats and one Republican, Sen. John Tower (R-TX)” that was matched by their zeal to “filibuster (H.R.7152) to death.”

    2. In order to beat this Southern Bloc, the “pro-civil rights forces had to either wear them out, a task which was virtually impossible, or if all 100 Senators voted, get 67 votes for cloture”

    (Manley 1965, 11).

    To add to the troubles of the pro-civil rights Democrats, as Rodriguez and Weingast explain, was what the passage of the legislation would mean for the future of the Democratic Party. After all, President Johnson had received a chilling, cold warning from Sen. Russell, informing the president that the civil rights legislation would lead to the ruin of the Democratic Party in the South (Rodriquez and Weingast 2003, 1476). As such, it would seem that “beyond the immediate electoral benefits of supporting civil rights, then, the Republicans had a long-term incentive to support this bill so as to help the Democrats dislodge the southern wing of their party”(Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1478). Like a 3-D puzzle that's bad for your eyes and mind, the Republicans were caught up in a strange political paradox. On one hand, they simply would not receive all the credit for the legislation, nor would did they want it, indeed, Sen. Everett, “never favored the public accommodations or the fair employment provisions” (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1480). However, by facilitating the demise of the North-South coalition, they obviously stood to benefit from two-party competition in the South. By helping to pass the legislation outside of committee despite its imperfections, Sen. Dirksen demonstrated real political genius, laying the groundwork for an alternative pro-equal rights vision that stopped short of accepting Title II and Title VII ideologically, allowing the Republicans ambiguity in their courtship of the disaffected White South. Indeed, that fall Sen. Dirksen and the Republican Party would offer their nomination for president to Sen. Barry M. Goldwater (R-AZ), who had voted against the civil rights act and cloture (Manley 1965, 13).

    As Manley explains, Dirksen's support could not have been more dire to the Senate civil rights coalition: “About 30 Senators were considered to be irreconcilably opposed to closure. Of the remaining 70, nine were swing votes. This meant that closure depending on winning six of them, and all but two of the nine were Republicans. Many of these men represented relatively small, rural states which in addition to having few problems with civil rights have historically looked upon the right to filibuster as an inviolable guarantee against domination by large states. It was this group that Dirksen had to deliver” (Manley 1965, 11-12).

    Describing the principles and parameters of the Senate compromise efforts, Guéron writes “from April to mid-May, Sen. Humphrey (D-Minn.) negotiated possible compromises with minority leader Everett McKinley Dirksen (R-Ill.), majority leader Mansfield, and officials from the Department of Justice.” However, the out-of-committee, quadrilateral negotiations were hampered by constraints created by the administration's deal with House minority leader Rep. McCulloch to keep the bill in the Senate as close to the House bill as possible. Finally, on May 13, a compromise was reached amongst all parties, and the “Dirksen substitute” was introduced in the Senate on May 26 (Guéron 1995, 1220).

    According to Manley, “many of the amendments introduced by Dirksen were technical in nature and posed no major obstacle to the bill's success.” What troubled Dirksen most was Title VII's provision for the “Federal enforcement of the fair employment practices section which banned job discrimination in public accommodations.” Reportedly, JFK had promised Dirksen the entire section regarding fair employment practices would not be in the bill; but it was added in the House with little expectation that it would remain as the bill was carried through the Senate. Out of a matter of political convenience between LBJ and liberals, both now “considered the section essential to a good bill” (Manley 1965, 12).

    Rodriguez and Weingast illustrate that Dirksen's intention was to “refashion the bill in order to make it more palatable to pivotal Republicans and their constituents. Consequently, the thrust of the amendments was in the direction of ameliorating its impact on American businesses.” According to Professor Hugh Davis Graham, as quoted by Rodriguez and Weingast, Dirken's proposals "further reduce[d] the authority of the EEOC {the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission}, which he regarded as a potential bureaucratic monster, like the early and runaway NLRB. For the new EEOC, Dirksen would mandate deference to state and local [fair employment practices] agencies where they existed, and, more important, strip the EEOC of its prosecutorial role." Describing the compromise that emerged in May between Senate Leaders and the Attorney General, Manley writes “Dirksen wanted more emphasis on the solution of racial problems by local agencies and he got it.” Only where it “found a 'pattern or practice' of discrimination against Negroes on racial grounds” would the Federal Government enforce Title II and Title VII (Manley 1965, 12). In further detail, Professor Graham, describes the real world significance of the changes to the bill sought by Dirksen: “By preventing third-party suits filed by groups like the NAACP, such an arrangement could avoid a sea of unnecessary litigation against businesses while still providing for some certain measure of enforcement by federal authorities. On the other hand, Dirksen well knew that the Justice Department was a relatively small, elite cabinet agency, in comparison with the more typical and large program-running departments like HEW, and so prided itself on enforcement through key case selection rather than through massive litigation. As a result, the Justice Department posed a smaller threat of potential harassment to employers than would a new mission agency like the EEOC” (Rodriguez and Weingast 2003, 1472).

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    Carlitos Wrote:


    We meet in grief, but let us also meet in renewed dedication and renewed vigor. Let us meet in action, in tolerance, and in mutual understanding. John Kennedy's death commands what his life conveyed-that America must move forward. The time has come for Americans of all races and creeds and political beliefs to understand and to respect one another. So let us put an end to the teaching and the preaching of hate and evil and violence. Let us turn away from the fanatics of the far left and the far right, from the apostles of bitterness and bigotry, from those defiant of law, and those who pour venom into our nation's bloodstream.”-LBJ, Nov. 27, 1963 (“Let Us Continue,” Lyndon Baines Johnson 2010)


    Thank you El Prezidente Kaboom for sharing your wonderful essay with us.  I read it in parts and then went back this morning and read in its entirety.  You have done meticulous research in bringing out a facet of American history that has largely been forgotten or glossed over in sound bites by the media.  The civil rights struggle at that time was momentous, and I have a much better appreciation for the effort behind the scenes to bring the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to fruition, first by Kennedy and then by Johnson. I better understand now the courage of Johnson in the face of immense adversity to make the Civil Rights Act happen.  Having just witnessed the effort to get health care through the Senate overcoming obscure cloture rules, the process in 1963 and 1964 was even more tenuous. I wonder what form of legislation would have passed Congress without the efforts of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

    I have been a critic of Johnson for the Vietnam war, but I will now remember and appreciate him for what he achieved. I was thinking about what part of your essay stood out the most, and I chose Johnson's words above...Let Us Continue...let us put an end to the teaching and the preaching of hate and violence. Let us turn away...from the apostles of bitterness and bigotry, from those defiant of law, and those who pour venom into our nation's bloodstream.

    The TV pundits and many politicians of today could learn much from Lyndon Johnson. Instead of deriding our first very remarkable black President, they should honor and respect him, and herald his many achievements. The batlle is indeed not over...let us continue.

    Once again...thank you EPK with all my heart.
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    The Vietnam War destroyed Johnson from the inside and out. He was dead 4 years after leaving office.
    It was a mistake and he knew it...but by 1968 an honorable peace was on the table...
    which Kissinger and Nixon scuttled to fight the war for 4 more years....AND LOSE any chance of defending Saigon from a mainline NVA invasion, once Nixon made it impossible to trust the government....

    I don't many John McCain....that a tactical military victory was achievable....not without bombing the Red River Delta...possibly killing 20 million people....and even then....we would have had a humanitarian crisis on our hands never seen think our image is bad now.