"This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society...we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."
-- excerpt from President Eisenhower's Military industrial complex speech, 1961
Listen up. You probably know that Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was our 34th president from 1953 to 1961, that he was a five-star general, that he served as Supreme Commander of our allied forces in Europe, and as such, was charged with the responsibility of invading France and Germa ny.
On this day, May 6, President Eisenhower signed the 1960 civil rights act. It was the first civil rights bill approved by Congress since Reconstruction. Though not viewed as particularly important in the civil rights struggle, it nonetheless made an important contribution.
What the 1960 civil rights act did was catapult the issue into the White House. It made civil rights a pivotal issue at the time when both parties were fighting to get the black vote and, at the same time, when southern politicians like the late Senator Strum Thurmond were accusing the federal government of interfering in state affairs.
Here's what "Our White House" said of him:
"Eisenhower was forced to send federal troops to escort the new students to school. Eisenhower also proposed and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was intended to guarantee the voting rights of all African Americans. This was the first civil rights legislation to pass since Reconstruction. It was followed by the Civil Rights Act of 1960, which was an attempt to further strengthen voting rights by mandating federal inspection of local voter registration polls."
What did the Civil Rights Act of 1960 do?
* It introduced penalties against anybody who obstructed a person's attempt to register to vote or to vote.
* It created a Civil Rights Commission was created to monitor this law and report to the White House. Though some complained this law didn't have any teeth and was just a way of passing the buck, it could be argued that it was probably the most Eisenhower could do. After all, southern politicians held a tremendous amount of power in congress, controlling many of its key committees.
President Eisenhower was a complex character. Though a general, he spoke out against war and the "industrial complex" that used war to make profits off the country's treasury. Though a white guy from a party that coveted apartheid in the South, he also played a role in putting the White House on a path of tackling the issue of apartheid and getting rid of this scourge on the American landscape. Of course it would be up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other brave Americans to end southern apartheid and to make "the American dream" more than slogan and a living reality, a struggle that still goes on today. But it's important to remember
that it was President Eisenhower that put it on the White House's agenda and, through The Civil Rights Act of 1960, put the civil rights issue on a path from which it could never turn back.
1. African American registry (http://www.aaregistry.com/detail.php?id=1814).
2. Wilkipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dwight_D._Eisenhower).
3. Our White House: Looking in, Looking Out (http://www.ourwhitehouse.org/prespgs/ddeisenhower.html).