To promote that law, a massive march on Washington was mobilized for 28 August 1963, at which Martin Luther King’s speech struck the cord that rang the freedom bell. That day it mesmerized many Americans; today, it’s memorized by many throughout the world. It is the only speech one recalls from that event: the speech in which King dreamt that Blacks will “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This very spirit would be crystallized into the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The proposed law encountered unrelenting opposition from Southern Democrats, some 22 members of the Senate. Most of the northern Democrats supported the bill, but could not muster 67 votes to end a filibuster. So, Republican cooperation was essential for passage. While a few, like Arizona’s Barry Goldwater, opposed it, most Republicans were willing to be swayed, if they were certain of the nature of the bill to be passed.
When Congress debated the proposed civil rights legislation, there were ominous trends. In late 1963 Pitney-Bowes, a major manufacturer of postage equipment, announced it would give Negroes preferences in hiring. (Hugh Davis, The Civil Rights Era, p. 116) Other major corporations were quietly hiring Blacks by quotas and providing them preferential treatment. (Davis, 105) Moreover, the Labor Dept.’s Bureau of Apprenticeship Training issued new guidelines that appeared to grant favoritism to Blacks and quotas in recruiting. (Davis, 114-15)
When the proposed civil rights act was before Congress, preferential hiring and quotas were clearly part of the debate. Was the Civil Rights Act to become a quota law? Opponents, mainly Democrats like Sen. Sam Ervin (NC), contended that the law would inevitably result in quotas and preferences for Blacks. Not so, assured the liberals. A leading supporter of the legislation, Dem. Sen. Hubert Humphrey (Minn.), responded to such fears by clarifying:
there is nothing in it [the bill] that will give any power to the Commission [the EEOC] or to
any court to require hiring, firing, or promotion of employees in order to meet a racial “quota”
or to achieve a racial balance…
In fact the very opposite is true…Title VII is designed to encourage hiring on the basis of
ability and qualifications, not race and religion. [Davis, 150]
[Interestingly, Chen refers to Humphrey’s explicit denial that “the law would require racial quotas or racial balancing,” (Chen, 88), but Chen acknowledges this NOT when he discusses the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but when explicating the debate over New York State’s Fair Employment Policy law in 1944-45! I suggest there is a reason for this ‘disconnect.’]
Furthermore, the floor managers in the Senate for Title VII [the employment section of the proposed law], Democrat Sen. Joseph Clark (Pa.) and Republican Sen. Clifford Case (NJ) issued a joint memorandum to answer opponents of the new law who complained that discrimination was not even defined. “To discriminate means to make a distinction, to make a difference in treatment or favor…which is based on any five of the criteria: race, color, religion, sex, and national origin…There is no requirement in title VII that an employer maintain a racial balance in his work force. On the contrary, any deliberate attempt to maintain a racial balance would involve a violation of title VII because maintaining such a balance would require an employer to hire or refuse to hire on the basis of race. It must be emphasized that discrimination is prohibited to any individual.” [Davis, 150-51].
Yet, how did a law meant to insure non-discrimination, merit hiring, maintenance of testing; a law that forbade quotas and racial balance come to mean the opposite? How could the Civil Rights Act be used to enforce quotas (using euphemisms of “goals and timetables” or more recently “diversity”)? How could the law be used to forbid aptitude testing when some groups do poorly? How could it be used to prevent an employer from inquiring of a prospective employee about high school grades, or high school diplomas, or criminal records (as such queries would certainly affect groups differently)? So today, in the name of equal opportunity, whites with far better records are rejected and Blacks, or later Browns, with far worse records are hired and promoted. How could it be that a Chair of the Civil Rights Commission some years later would declare that civil rights laws did not apply to white people! How could it be that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would be a major springboard for the attack on equal opportunity for all: the end of non-discrimination; the end of merit hiring and promotion; and the general decline of the American work force? All this in the name of equal opportunity! As Orwell might reply to those questions: all are equal, but some are more equal than others.
Beginning with the proposals for Fair Employment legislation in the 1940s, Chen makes a good argument that, outside the South, it was Republicans who usually opposed such laws. Of course, the South in 1945 was overwhelmingly Democratic, legally segregated, and vigorously opposed to FEP laws. However, outside Dixie, the Democrats usually received the northern Black vote and began to urge this type of legislation. Furthermore, it would affect not only Blacks, but Jews, Italians, and some of the more recent immigrant Catholics, all of whom tended to vote Democrat. Some labor unions, especially the CIO’s left-wing, also advocated FEP laws. On the national scene, passing such a law through Congress where a 2/3s vote was necessary to end a Southern filibuster, derailed proposals for FEPC in 1945 and again in 1949. Even after Truman’s surprise victory over Dewey in 1948, the victorious Democrats in 1949 could not overcome their Southern wing to pass FEPC.
Outside the South, on the state level there were no elected Southern Democrats. So why did not the other states enact FEPC? A few did so quickly. The first major debate occurred in 1944-45 in New York. Liberals gathered a multiracial, multi-religious coalition to support the proposed bill. There had been a riot in Harlem in 1943, and in 1944 the New York legislature deliberated an FEP law. Republicans held a 2/3s majority in both houses of the State House in Albany. While liberals expected little opposition to the FEP proposal, upstate Representative Frederic Bontecou organized others to halt passage of the bill. (Prof. Chen calls him the “ringleader” of the opposition (p.88), indicating Chen’s bias. Would he refer to Sen. Hubert Humphrey as a “ringleader of those supporting civil rights legislation?) Chen notes even in this early debate that opponents maintained passage would lead to the end of free markets, the end of merit hiring, displacing merit with racial balancing and quotas, (Chen, 88) blackmail, hiring of undesirables, and intensified racial conflict. (p. 100) Opponents of the proposed New York law also alleged that it would create a commission that would search for discrimination where there was none, and then rule against the employer to justify the very existence of the commission. (Chen, 102) In short, many saw nothing “fair” about the so-called Fair Employment Practices legislation.
One of the highlights in the New York debate occurred when Rep. Bontecou read to the House a letter from Park Commissioner Robert Moses opposing FEP. Moses asserted that if FEP passed, the logic of proportionalism in the workplace would result in quotas. His letter then recounted the oppression that Jews had experienced in Europe from Medieval times to the 20th century because of quotas. Indeed, a right-wing newspaper columnist summarized Moses’ argument against FEP with the phrase, the “Hitlerian rule of quotas.” (Chen, 110) Chen simply dismisses this objection when he writes: “It did not matter to Moses that Ives-Quinn [the New York FEP bill] mandated non-discrimination.” (Chen, 108) Prof. Chen might be reminded that the wording of the 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly forbade quotas and implicitly forbade racial balancing – but after passage, the US was burdened with both. Moreover, Chen seems oblivious as to why Moses would invoke the fear of quotas. As this debate was occurring, Europe was still ablaze with bombs, tanks, and concentration camps. In the 1930s in Europe the rising demand for quotas were often the first step in efforts to deny Jews equal opportunity, steps that led to further discrimination, incarceration, and even extermination. (See my “Affirmative Action and the Nazis, anthonyflood.com). Furthermore, such quotas had restricted opportunities for Jews not only in Europe, but in elite American universities as well. (See Steven Farron’s, The Affirmative Action Hoax, 2005; and Jerome Karabel’s The Chosen, 2005) Chen does report that in 1945 controversy erupted because of racial and religious quotas proposed by the American Dental Assn. to increase the percentage of gentiles in the profession. (Chen, 109) Thus, for Chen to wave off concerns about quotas with: the FEB bill “mandated non-discrimination,” is to ignore that similar proposals had been and would be the first wave that culminated in tsunamis and floods of quotas, racial balance, and discrimination.
If Republicans controlled the state government, FEP was less likely to pass [exceptions, like New York]. Even if the Democrats controlled the governor and one state representative body, FEP laws might still be defeated or delayed. Chen describes “veto points,” in one of the assemblies, or in committee, or reconciliation committees, wherein Republican opponents might derail or delay such laws. If pressure for FEP grew sufficient, then to prevent passage, Republicans might propose an alternative measure that would call for voluntary compliance, rather than the mandatory “cease and desist” orders written into the Democratic proposals.
Yet, Republicans were often as guilty –if not more so – of initiating the anti-white policies. For example, the Philadelphia Plan – with its quotas camouflaged by the phrase “goals and timetables,” started in the final year of the Presidency of Lyndon Johnson. With the defeat of Democrat Hubert Humphrey in 1968, the Philadelphia quota plan was scrapped. But not for long. Newly elected Republican President Richard Nixon revived the Philadelphia Plan, and then extended the quota policy throughout the entire government in its contracts and employment. (Dept. of Labor, 970, Revised Order #4, see Chen, 221) Nixon also broadened the quota program to include women and other minorities. (Davis, 409)
Chen also notes the importance of elite groups (rather than grass roots) in making and shaping policy. (23) He states that his book presents a new perspective – “how elite mobilization, political parties, and political institutions interact over time to shape the development of policy.” (30)