To what extent was the federal government responsible for improving the status of black people in the USA during 1945-64?
Truman had the Presidential committee publish ‘To Secure These Rights’ which is a report that highlighted the problems black people faced as well as recommendations on how to improve their lives. However, despite the recommendations being unrealistic and having little if no effect, Truman was the first President since Lincoln to publically commit to civil rights. This helped improve black status as civil rights and racial equality were on the presidential agenda.
The report highlighted that the President was aware of the oppression black people faced and was committed to help improve the lives of African Americans. Truman followed up his recommendations with action as he began to give black people Federal jobs. He appointed the first black Federal Judge in 1949 and American Ambassador for the UN in 1950.
This improved black status as they were able to aspire to achieve top Government jobs which would not be hindered by their skin colour. It would also mean that they would be well educated enough to get good jobs which paid well. Truman was then able to able to successfully desegregate the Army as well as have a desegregated crowd at his Inauguration ceremony which helped elevate black status as black soldiers lives were now deemed just as equal as white soldiers. It also showed that both blacks and whites were equal in the Presidents eyes as he was willing to serve all American citizens.
However there were other factors which helped improve black status. Civil rights groups that focused on de facto change such as the SNCC, CORE, SCLC and MIA improved black status as they showed that peacefully fighting for racial equality and grabbing media attention was effective in improving the status and lives of African American citizens.
In addition to this, Eisenhower took the National Guard under Presidential control and ordered them to protect the students in Little Rock (1957) and escort them inside the school building. Regardless of him abstaining from civil rights he was reluctantly forced into aiding desegregation. Had it not been for the President the nine students at Little Rock may have been denied an education.
Moreover, Eisenhower proposed two Civil Rights Acts in 1957 and 1960. They both focused on voting rights and the one in 1957 placed fines upon those who tried to disenfranchise black people and the one in 1960 required local authorities to keep records of voter registration. Both of these Acts increased the proportion of black voters by 3 per cent. This improved black status as it meant that they were no longer being disenfranchised by the Jim Crow laws and their Constitutional rights were being enforced by the Federal Government.
Despite only 3 per cent increase it was showing gradual change and black people could begin to vote for politicians they felt best represented their ideas. They could also influence policy makers for the first time which improved their status. On the other hand the Federal Government were not the only ones to help improve black status. De jure civil rights groups such as the NAACP helped to elevate the status of black people as they were able to fund well educated lawyers to help them win legal cases.
They were also able to take certain cases to the Supreme Court such as Sweatt vs. Painter (1950) and Brown vs. Board of Topeka (1954) which both focused on the education of black people and ensuring that they were receiving the same level of education as white children. This improved black status as it meant that the doctrine ‘separate but equal’ was deemed unconstitutional and schools were desegregated. However, had it not been for the change in leadership in the Supreme Court they may not have ruled in their favour. Earl Warren was sympathetic towards black people so the NAACP was able to win that Brown vs. Board case.
Thirdly, Johnson put forth the 1964 Civil Rights Act, initiated by Kennedy, which outlawed segregation in public places. This improved black status as it meant that they could use all the same public facilities as white people. Public facilities were desegregated and could be accessed by all. This legislation helped bridge the gap of racial equality. However, pressure was already being put on the Government as the Greensboro sit-ins challenged legal segregation in the South. It quickly spread as there were also read-ins, watch-ins and wade-ins. Therefore direct action encouraged the Government to pass this legislation.
Johnson also worked with Martin Luther King to help bring about change for black people. It could be argued that he was the most radical President in terms of civil rights as he was publically associating himself with a civil rights leader. This proves that it was not only the Government that helped civil rights. It was also the help of inspirational figures such as Martin Luther King which helped motivate and encourage black people to improve their own status. This helped elevate the status of black people as the President himself was working alongside the most prominent figure in the civil rights campaign. It gave them hope that change was going to happen.
In conclusion, I believe that Federal Government was the most important factor in improving the status of black people. The pressure of direct action from de jure groups would ultimately need legislation to achieve their aims. This is only provided be the Government.
This is evident as had it not been for Earl Warren the monumental impact of the Brown vs. Board case would not have gone through. Furthermore King only worked with the President to ensure de jure change would happen as a means to improve black status. Therefore I believe that without the right legislation supported by the Presidents and passed through Congress, the status of black people would not have been improved.
By Libin F