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Hidden like a skeleton in a closet the civil rights issue finally found its "place in the sun" early last April. Since the end of the World War the problem had been given "lip service" by both political parties, and even though the cause of the Negro experienced greater attention than ever before the Negro still found himself being "short changed" on his Constitutional rights.
This time the Negro had made up his mind that he would call for payment in full for the support he had given the current President in going to the polls in 1960. More than two years had gone by since John F. Kennedy had taken office and the only claim his administration could make was that there had been a significant increase in the number of Negro attorneys in the civil rights division of the Justice Department. As far as other positions were concerned a Negro had been appointed head of the Federal Housing Administration, and there were rumors in the nation's capital that when John Horne vacated his post as head of the Small Business Administration there might be a Negro appointed to replace Horne. Such token representation was not new to the Negro, in fact, it had been going on since the turn of the century.
To begin his crusade he turned down the difficult and chose in its place the impossible in Birmingham, Alabama. Probably the most strictly segregated city in the United States. Birmingham reacted as the Negro knew it would. Eugene "Bull" Conner, the city's police commissioner, gave the Negro the sympathy which he had indeed earned after nearly one hundred years of separate faculties, back seats in busses, poll taxes, and unfair literacy tests.
At last the skeleton had been brought from the closet and "flung" into the face of an America which could no longer look the other way. Birmingham was first, then Cambridge, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and finally Washington.
Civil rights legislation had been lacking for almost a century and with the ending of the hostilities in the Pacific the nation was finally able to their eyes inward. The first major action taken was the desegregation of the armed services, a step initialed and carried by President Harry S. Truman. This having been successfully completed little if any significance took place until 1954 when the United States Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine in "Brown vs. Board of Education."
With the Brown decision in its lap "the Eisenhower Administration approached the situation with a great deal of well-warranted caution. The first step of major consequence taken by the administration was an executive order which called for the desegregation of all businesses and places of public accommodation in the city of Washington.
Beyond these two things relatively little was done until 1957. It was in the spring of 1957 that the first major piece of civil rights legislation since the end of the Reconstruction period found its way into the pages of the law books. Later in this same year with the opening of school in the fall the process of desegregation in public schools was begun in earnest in Little Rock, Arkansas.
After the crisis at Little Rock relatively little was heard of civil rights until 1960. Once again and for the last time Eisenhower brought before the Congress strong civil rights measures which he no doubt hoped would swing many Negro votes into the Republican camp. The primary provision of this and the 1957 act dealt with "voting referees." Both of the Eisenhower proposals called for a system whereby any election involving officers of the federal government might be supervised by "voting referees" upon a directive from a federal court. These "referees" would not only make certain that every qualified individual would have the right to vote, but they were to remain throughout the counting of the ballots to make certain that every ballot was tallied. However, in both 1957 and 1960 the Congress removed the "voting referees" from the respective bills rendering them almost totally ineffective.
With two laws already on the books many in Congress argue that the Administration already has enough tools with which to carry out its duties.
The common complaint of many members of both the House and Senate is that Mr. Kennedy has very seldom used the statutes which are already in existence. Now that he has come before the Congress with his plan for new legislation many are reluctant to support him. The question, however, due to the growth of racial tensions is receiving ever increasing attention. In fact by the end of the summer the racial issue was to be described by many as the most important issue to come before the Congress in this century.
The author is a senior political science major. He studied last semester in Washington, D. C., and is now president of the campus Young Republicans.