The Civil Rights Movement And The Second Reconstruction, 1945—1968
The broad period from the end of World War II until the late 1960s, often referred to as the “Second Reconstruction,” consisted of a grass-roots civil rights movement coupled with gradual but progressive actions by the Presidents, the federal courts, and Congress to provide full political rights for African Americans and to begin to redress longstanding economic and social inequities. While African-American Members of Congress from this era played prominent roles in advocating for reform, it was largely the efforts of everyday Americans who protested segregation that prodded a reluctant Congress to pass landmark civil rights legislation in the 1960s.76
About this objectHoward Smith of Virginia, chairman of the House Rules Committee, routinely used his influential position to thwart civil rights legislation. Smith often shuttered committee operations by retreating to his rural farm to avoid deliberations on pending reform bills.
Several factors prevented the few African Americans in Congress from playing prominent legislative roles in institutional efforts to pass the major acts of 1957, 1964, and 1965. Black Members were too scarce to alter institutional processes or form a consequential voting bloc. Until the fall 1964 elections, there were only five African Americans in Congress: Dawson, Powell, Diggs, Nix, and Hawkins. John Conyers joined the House in 1965 and Brooke entered the Senate in 1967. These new Members had a limited amount of influence, although Hawkins scored a major success as a freshman when he helped shape the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a member of Powell’s Education and Labor Committee, and Brooke helped secure the housing anti-discrimination provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 during his first term in the Senate. Yet while they were determined, energetic, and impassioned, there were too few African Americans in Congress to drive a policy agenda. Moreover, black Members themselves disagreed as to the best method to achieve civil rights advances, and individual legislative styles, conflicting loyalties (party versus activist agendas), and personality differences circumscribed their ability to craft a black issues agenda. Consequently, their uncoordinated and sporadic actions mitigated their potential effect. At key moments, some were excluded from the process or were inexplicably absent. Their symbolic leader, Powell, was too polarizing a figure for House leaders to accord him a highly visible role in the process. This perhaps explains why the Harlem Representative, despite his public passion for racial justice and his ability to deliver legislation through the Education and Labor Committee, was sometimes unusually detached from the legislative process.82
The Senate’s anti-majoritarian structure magnified the power of southern racial conservatives. In contrast to the rules of the House, which strictly limited Members’ ability to speak on the floor, the Senate’s long-standing tradition of allowing Members to speak without interruption played into the hands of obstructionists. The filibuster, a Senate practice that allowed a Senator or a group of Senators to prevent a vote on a bill, became the chief weapon of civil rights opponents. In this era, too, Senate rules were modified, raising the bar needed to achieve cloture, i.e., to end debate and move to a vote on legislation. From 1949 to 1959, cloture required the approval of two-thirds of the chamber’s entire membership, rather than two-thirds of the Members who were present. Influential southern Senators held key positions in the upper chamber and, not surprisingly, were among the most skilled parliamentarians. Richard Russell of Georgia, a master of procedure, framed the opposition’s defense on constitutional concerns about federal interference in states’ issues, making him a more palatable figure than many of the Senate’s earlier racial conservatives such as Mississippi’s James K. Vardaman or Theodore Bilbo.84 Russell attracted northern and western Republicans to his cause based on their opposition to the expansion of federal powers that would be necessary to enforce civil rights in the South. Mississippi’s James Eastland, another procedural tactician, who presided over the Judiciary Committee beginning in March 1956, bragged that he had special pockets tailored into his suits where he stuffed bothersome civil rights bills. Between 1953 and 1965 more than 122 civil rights measures were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but only one was reported back to the full Senate.85
Racial violence in the South, which amounted to domestic terrorism against blacks, continued into the middle of the 20th century and powerfully shaped public opinion. Though more sporadic than before, beatings, cross burnings, lynchings, and myriad other forms of white-on-black intimidation went largely unpunished. Nearly 200 African Americans are thought to have been lynched between 1929 and 1964, but that figure likely underrepresents the actual number.87 In August 1955, a particularly gruesome killing galvanized activists and shocked a largely complacent nation. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago who was visiting family in Mississippi, was shot in the head, and his lifeless body was dumped off a bridge, for the alleged “crime” of whistling at a white woman. Determined to expose the brutality of the act, his mother allowed the national press to photograph the boy’s remains, and thousands of mourners streamed past the open casket.
Charles Diggs’s visible role in the wake of the Till lynching “catapulted” him into the “national spotlight.”88 At considerable personal risk, Diggs accompanied Till’s mother to the September 1955 trial at which the two accused murderers were acquitted in kangaroo court proceedings. Diggs’s presence in Mississippi demonstrated solidarity with (and hope for) many local African Americans. A black reporter covering the trial recalled that Diggs “made a difference down there…people lined up to see him. They had never seen a black member of Congress. Blacks came by the truckloads. Never before had a member of Congress put his life on the line protecting the constitutional rights of blacks.”89 Diggs, who earlier had pushed for a U.S. Justice Department probe of the defrauding of black Mississippi voters, proposed to unseat the Members of the Mississippi delegation to the U.S. House on the grounds that they were elected by only a fraction of the state’s voters.90 Diggs’s performance contrasted sharply with that of William Dawson, who represented the Chicago district where Till’s mother lived. In an open 1956 letter to Dawson, the NAACP questioned his failure to comment publicly on the Till lynching. Expressing further disappointment with Dawson’s support for reform legislation as a member of the Democratic committee writing the civil rights plank for the national party, the NAACP denounced him for “silence, compromise, and meaningless moderation” on civil rights matters.91
Southern defiance, on display on Capitol Hill, crystallized in a bold proclamation conceived by Senators Russell, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and Harry Flood Byrd, Sr., of Virginia. Titled the “Declaration of Constitutional Principles” and known colloquially as the Southern Manifesto, it attacked the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, accusing the Justices of abusing judicial power and trespassing upon states’ rights. Signed on March 12, 1956, by 82 Representatives and 19 Senators (roughly one-fifth of Congress), it urged southerners to exhaust all “lawful means” in the effort to resist the “chaos and confusion” that would result from school desegregation.
Civil Rights Act of 1957
In 1956, partly at the initiative of outside advocacy groups such as the NAACP, proposals by Eisenhower’s Justice Department under the leadership of Attorney General Herbert Brownell, and the growing presidential ambitions of Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson, a civil rights bill began to move through Congress. Southern opponents such as Senators Russell and Eastland, realizing that some kind of legislation was imminent, slowed and weakened reform through the amendment process. The House passed the measure by a wide margin, 279 to 97, though southern opponents managed to excise voting protections from the original language. Adam Clayton Powell and Charles Diggs argued passionately on the House Floor for a strong bill. Powell particularly aimed at southern amendments that preserved trials by local juries because all-white juries (since blacks were excluded from the voting process, they were also barred from jury duty) ensured easy acquittals for white defendants accused of crimes against blacks. “This is an hour for great moral stamina,” Powell told colleagues. “America stands on trial today before the world and communism must succeed if democracy fails…Speak no more concerning the bombed and burned and gutted churches behind the Iron Curtain when here in America behind our ’color curtain’ we have bombed and burned churches and the confessed perpetrators of these crimes go free because of trial by jury.”93 In the Senate, Paul H. Douglas of Illinois and Minority Leader William F. Knowland of California circumvented Eastland’s Judiciary Committee and got the bill onto the floor for debate. Lyndon Johnson played a crucial role, too, discouraging an organized southern filibuster while forging a compromise that allayed southern concern about the bill’s jury and trial provisions.94 On August 29 the Senate approved the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (P.L. 85-315) by a vote of 60 to 15.
Though southern Members were heartened by these successes, consequential internal congressional reforms promised to end obstructionism. In 1961, Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas challenged Chairman Howard Smith directly by proposing to expand the Rules Committee by adding three more Members to the roster, a move that was intended to break Smith’s stranglehold over social legislation. Rayburn recruited a group of roughly two dozen northern Republicans who supported the reform and declared their intention to “repudiate” a GOP alliance with southern Democrats “to attempt to narrow the base of our party, to dull its conscience, to transform it into a negative weapon of obstruction.”95 The forces of reform prevailed by a margin of 217 to 212. The support of moderate Republicans presaged the development of a coalition that would undercut the power of southern racial conservatives and pass sweeping civil rights laws.
Civil Rights Act of 1964
A reluctant Kennedy administration began coordinating with congressional allies to pass a significant reform bill. Freshman Representative Gus Hawkins observed in May 1963 that the federal government had a special responsibility to ensure that federal dollars did not underwrite segregation practices in schools, facilities for vocational education, libraries, and other municipal entities, saying, “those who dip their hands in the public treasury should not object if a little democracy sticks to their fingers.” Otherwise “do we not harm our own fiscal integrity, and allow room in our conduct for other abuses of public funds?”96 After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, invoked the slain President’s memory to prod reluctant legislators to produce a civil rights measure.
Having passed the House, the act faced its biggest hurdle in the Senate. President Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield of Montana tapped Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota to build Senate support for the measure and fend off the efforts of a determined southern minority to stall it. One historian notes that Humphrey’s assignment amounted to an “audition for the role of Johnson’s running mate in the fall presidential election.”99 Humphrey, joined by Republican Thomas Kuchel of California, performed brilliantly, lining up the support of influential Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois. By allaying Dirksen’s unease about the enforcement powers of the EEOC, civil rights proponents then co-opted the support of a large group of midwestern Republicans who followed Dirksen’s lead.100 On June 10, 1964, for the first time in its history, the Senate invoked cloture on a civil rights bill (by a vote of 71 to 29), thus cutting off debate and ending a 75-day filibuster—the longest in the chamber’s history. On June 19, 1964, 46 Democrats and 27 Republicans joined forces to approve the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 73 to 27. President Johnson signed the bill (P.L. 88-352) into law on July 2, 1964.
Voting Rights Act of 1965
After President Johnson addressed a Joint Session of Congress to speak about the events in Selma, legislative action was swift. A bill moved through both chambers that suspended the use of literacy tests for a five-year period and provided for sending federal poll watchers and voting registrars to states with persistent patterns of voting discrimination. It required Justice Department pre-clearance of any change to election statutes. Finally, the bill made obstructing an individual’s right to vote a federal crime. On May 26, 1965, the Senate passed the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 77 to 19. Among the African-American Members who spoke on behalf of the bill on the House Floor was freshman John Conyers, Jr. Joined by Representatives Diggs, Hawkins, and Powell, Conyers had visited Selma in February 1965 as part of a 15-Member congressional delegation that investigated voting discrimination.102 The experience convinced him that there was ”no alternative but to have the federal Government take a much more positive and specific role in guaranteeing the right to register and vote in all elections…surely this Government cannot relax if even one single American is arbitrarily denied that most basic right of all in a democracy—the right to vote.”103 The House passed the act by a vote of 333 to 85 on July 9, 1965. An amended conference report passed both chambers by wide margins and President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-110) into law on August 6, 1965.104
Coupled with the “one man, one vote” standard, which set off a round of court-ordered redistricting, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 reshaped the electoral landscape for African Americans. In southern states, particularly in cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and Memphis, the creation of districts with a majority of African-American constituents propelled greater numbers of African Americans into Congress by the early 1970s. In northern urban areas, too, the growing influence of black voters reshaped Congress. Blacks constituted a growing percentage of the population of major U.S. cities (20 percent in 1970 versus 12 percent in 1950), partly because in the 1960s whites left the cities in droves for the suburbs.107 In 1968, Louis Stokes (Cleveland), Bill Clay (St. Louis), and Shirley Chisholm (Brooklyn) were elected to Congress from redrawn majority-black districts in which white incumbents chose not to run.108 By 1971, the number of African-American Members in the House was more than double the number who had served in 1965.
Civil Rights Act of 1968
The era’s final major piece of civil rights legislation reflected the changing emphasis of the civil rights movement itself: Having secured a measure of political rights, black leaders now emphasized the importance of equal economic and educational opportunity. Congressional action in this area was measured; the national mood and major events had begun to turn against reform. The ambitious agenda of federal programs known as the Great Society had begun to wane. Initiated by President Johnson in the mid-1960s, these programs were in many ways conceived of as an extension of New Deal reforms. Great Society legislation marked the zenith of federal activism—addressing civil rights, urban development, the environment, health care, education, housing, consumer protection, and poverty. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the administration won the enactment of a number of far-reaching programs, among them several that exist today, such as Medicare, which provides health coverage for the elderly, and Medicaid, which provides the poor with access to hospitalization, optional medical insurance, and other health care benefits.109
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Essay on Progressivism
Thesis statement: it is hypothesized that Progressivism was a wide and varied movement that changed American values and lifestyles having everlasting impact on American history.
Progressivism, ranging from 1880 to 1920, was a well-planned and well-organized movement in the United States having wide as well as diversified goals. Leaders of progressivism movement focused on humanity element and tried to make advancements by promoting liberation to stimulate human force along with exploiting human potential to remove restraints imposed by contemporary liberalization. The paper will present an overview of Progressivism as a wide and varied movement. It will also discuss the goals of movement and mention some of the prominent people who took part in it. At the end, the significance of Progressivism to America will also be highlighted.
Progressivism - A Wide and Varied Movement
Progressivism expanded in American cities and confronted political mechanism full of monopolies and corrupt leaders. For the resolution of diversified problems existing at the local and state levels, progressivism focused on promoting idea of public ownership of government run by professional city bosses. Leaders of the movement strived to resolve the issues created by the wave of industrialization. At the time of movement the main problems confronted by the American society was the gigantic growth of cities and industries. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans started migrating to the northern cities. This huge wave of migration being main cause of growth coupled with disastrous working conditions presented a worse scenario.
The new comers strived to adapt to entirely new conditions at one hand while trying hard to maintain their distinctive culture and language system on the other creating a complex situation. Wealth concentrated in few hands and a large segment of people were caught in the vicious circle of poverty. Low wage-rates, dangerous working conditions, and long working hours were among several grave problems faced by most of the Americans. Swift technological advancements and rapid speed of industrialization altered the life styles of Americans.
In this context, progressive leaders advocated and strived to introduce reforms for solving the grave issues. Progressivism movement was wide in nature with varying goals. It introduced urban reforms and had offensive attitude towards dishonest leaders and corrupt political system. Leaders of progressive movement favored taking ownership of public utilities by government supporting different social welfare programs to resolve mainly the problems of immigrants, working class, and poor. At the state level, Progressive movement introduced specific democratic reforms. The purpose of democratic reforms was to allow American citizens to select leaders as per their choice, independently and freely.
Basically, the roots of Progressivism had been in the transitional era of United States from a nation comprising farmers to a nation of consumers and employees manipulated by large firms, exploiting and misusing resources, supported by the corrupt government. Progressive movement started with the intentions to rectify these problems. Moreover, it focused on providing solutions to the issues raised by urbanization and industrialization, as discussed above.
Progressive leaders felt that their democratic reforms were threatened by the corrupt governmental policies and dishonest leaders. Progressivism confronted ending corporate power and to abolish monopolies. Democracy, they believed, was the solution of problems faced by most of the Americans, especially lower class. They tried to protect working people and aimed to break the vicious circle of poverty by eliminating the gap between different social classes.
It is pertinent to mention that Progressive movement was wide in a sense that it included both Democrats and Republicans. The movement heavily impacted the political structure at local, state, and national levels. It had significant influence on cultural and social life of America. It was, in fact, a dynamic movement introducing reforms at varied platforms including democratic, social, and political fronts. The agenda also had variety and diversification. It comprises social as well as political agenda. However, the main aims were elimination of corruption, protecting common people especially lower- class, elimination the continuous gap between different social classes, and promoting scientific as well as technological developments ensuring welfare of people.
With varying nature and wider in scope, Progressivism concentrated on providing effective tools to build trust of people in government and business organizations. However, a small group in the Progressive movement also supported ownership of production by government. Amendments to the Constitution showed their priorities at the political front as they provided new ways for electing senators and tried to eliminate monopolies. The wide spectrum of Progressivism can be viewed from the fact that not only it focused on fighting at the political platform, the movement tried to address the problem of urbanization. It is also pertinent to highlight the shortcomings of Progressive movement as their failure in the areas of limiting child labor and not addressing racial problems of blacks especially African Americans who had migrated from South. At the end of first phase of Progressive movement ranging from 1880 to 1920, the election of 1912 was fought by contenders with Progressive approach having varied goals from different labor issues to problems at political as well as social level. More power was given to Congress in this era. Election of Senators was to be made by the public and women gained voting powers in this particular era.
Goals of Progressivism and People who Took Part in It
Progressivism was a movement starting at the end of nineteenth century (1880) and ended in the second decade of twentieth century (1920). In this era tremendous changes at the economic, social, and political level were made. People taking part in the movement had diversified backgrounds, different political views, and varied social interests. It included political leaders from both Democrats and Republicans. The movement was led by people of different groups comprising teachers, political leaders, labor leaders, religious leaders, journalists, from both genders. It included famous people like; Theodore Roosevelt- President of the United States; Woodrow Wilson- President of the United States; Robert M. La Follette, former governor of Wisconsin.
Muckrakers, a group of journalists such as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, exposed corruption practices in government and highlighted business scandals. They portrayed the miserable working conditions of poor and exploitations of large industries along with issues of concentration of wealth. Henry Ford introduced a lucrative pay scale for his workers during Progressive era. Among prominent ladies were Lucy Burns- an advocate of women's rights, and Jane Adams- a social worker and first women winner of the Noble Peace Prize. As regards goals of Progressivism, one of them was 'social welfare' aiming to provide social justice to everyone irrespective of social class. It strived to eliminate differences in social classes and supported attaining social justice by promoting the idea of charity and welfare by large organizations. For this purpose a large force comprising social workers was prepared and trained to perform their task effectively. Second goal of Progressivism was 'promotion of moral improvement', for example women's Suffrage by providing women the right to vote. Certain prohibition laws were introduced, for example Progressive leaders were of the view that usage of alcohol limited thinking and working of a person. Third goal was to provide 'economic reforms' by regulating especially large corporations to ensure independence and remove restrictions imposed by capitalism. The fourth main goal of Progressivism was 'efficiency'. Among other ideas, it included creating professional city manager to run affairs at local, state, and national level more effectively. Moreover, leaders of Progressivism reduced powers given to local wards through effective organization of city governments.
Lasting Significance of Progressivism to American History
The Progressive period is known for its tremendous successful efforts having everlasting impact on American economy and society by making remarkable changes at the social, economical, and political levels. Although, reformers of this movement belonged to a diversified group from labor and religious leaders, journalists, politicians, and teachers- both men and women- one thing common among them was to protect people, especially working class, solve problems of urbanization and industrialization, and concentrate on social welfare of American people. At the end of the movement by 1920, newly formed laws at state, local, and national level changed the entire scenario of America in all three major areas; economic, social, and political, having everlasting impact on the country.
Efforts have been made in the paper to present everlasting impact of Progressivism - a wide and varied movement from 1880 to 1920- that brought tremendous changes at the economic, social, and political levels of America. Goals of the movement and people who took part in it have also been highlighted. On the basis of arguments presented in paper it is concluded that Progressivism movement had an everlasting impact on America changing American values and lifestyles.