The Great Civil Rights Debate
The Ghost of Thaddeus Stevens in the Senate Chamber
“It Is time to march forward,” announced Senator Wayne Morse of Oregon, “toward the goal of social, economic, and political equality for all Americans, irrespective of the color of their skins.” But the Senator hastily followed up this bugle call for advance with a roll of drums for retreat: “However, this forward movement must be orderly, constitutionally lawful, devoid of carpetbagging and strong-armed tactics. It must be based upon appeals to reason and the instinctive sense of all patriotic Americans to fair play and moral justice.”
Between demand for justice and fear of injustice, between yearning for progress and respect for tradition, the fate of the first civil rights act since 1875 hung suspended through the summer of 1957. Morse’s conflicting impulses were borne out in his conduct, his marching and counter-marching, first with right-wing Southerners and then with left-wing Northerners. So much so that one of his friends wondered “if he hasn’t jumped the rails.” Actually, his claim to consistency was stronger than that of others. The most conspicuous, though hardly the most surprising, waverer was President Eisenhower. But liberal weeklies, conservative dailies, labor unions, and civil liberties groups, including the NAACP, shifted ground, hesitated, compromised.
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