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Dwight Eisenhower

What was his contribution to

the civil rights movement?
What was Truman’s contribution to the
Civil Rights Movement?

Sum this up in 5 Key words.

Learning Objectives:
To understand the role of Dwight Eisenhower in
the Civil Rights movement.

Success Criteria:
To analyse Eisenhower’s stance on Civil Rights
The importance of :
The Brown case
The Montgomery Bus Boycott
Little Rock
Dwight D Eisenhower succeeded
to the Presidency of the USA in
1953. He was a Republican and
a former soldier. During World
War Two Eisenhower had been
in charge of all Allied soldiers in
In the 1950s Eisenhower took a
strong position in the
development of the Cold War.
During his presidency the Arms
and Space Races took off.
Essentially, although not actively a racist,
Eisenhower did little to respond to the calls for
greater equality between blacks and whites.
Eisenhower was scared to act and held prejudiced
views against blacks.
Like many whites, Eisenhower was afraid of
miscegenation (co-habitation or inter-racial
marriage), so although he called for more equality,
that didn’t mean that blacks and whites had …
‘to mingle socially- or that a Negro could court my
Eisenhower had only one black
member of staff, E. Frederick
Morrow, and he was there only
to help Eisenhower get re-
Morrow was given low-ranking
tasks like arranging the staff
car-parking and answering
letters from blacks. Even the
other White House staff
refused to file or type for him!
Morrow was shocked at
Eisenhower’s ignorance.
Eisenhower only met the Civil
Rights leaders once!
Eisenhower tried to avoid
talking to his Republican
colleague Congressman Adam
Clayton Powell, because he
was black.
Eisehower’s attitude to Civil
Eisenhower hoped that either the civil
rights movement would just go away,
or that things would gradually
improve on their own. He failed to
grasp that his role as President
offered leadership opportunities to
change matters for the better.
Emmett Till
In 1955 Emmett Till’s mutilated
body was dragged from a
Mississippi river. He had been
killed for allegedly whistling at a
white woman.
Those responsible were put on trial.
The defendants lawyers were
leading Democrats in the county.
They claimed that Till was still
alive at one point and when
summing up they asked the
(white) jury to make ‘sure that
every last Anglo-Saxon one of us
has the courage to free’ the white
The verdict was ‘not guilty’.
Eisenhower made no comment.
Autherine Lucy
Another opportunity for
Eisenhower to show support
was missed at the trial of
Autherine Lucy.
Lucy had successfully took the
University of Alabama to
court to gain admission, but
she was later expelled. The
University said she had lied
when she said that they had
excluded her for racial
Eisenhower, again, made no
Eisenhower the Passive
Eisenhower summed up his stance on
Civil Rights with this statement…..

‘If we attempt merely by passing a lot

of laws to force someone to like
someone else, we are just going to
get into trouble’
BROWN v Board of Education,
In 1954, the BROWN v Board of Education, Topeka case
brought some improvement for blacks in education.
Eisenhower was opposed to this progress, as he told the
Supreme Court Judge Earl Warren who decided in favour
of desegregation in schools….
White Southerners aren’t bad people….
‘all they are concerned about is to see that their sweet
little girls are not required to sit in school alongside
some big overgrown Negroes’
The BROWN decision was supposed to enforce
desegregation in schools, but it was difficult to
implement with a lot of resistance in the South.
Eisenhower did not want to interfere with the
judiciary and disliked federal intrusion into
private lives. He feared that some schools would
close rather than admit blacks.
‘It is all very well to talk about school integration,
but you may also be talking about social
disintegration. We cannot demand perfection in
these moral questions. All we can do is keep
working toward a goal.’
Use the notes provided and
answer the following question
BROWN v The Board of Education,
Topeka 1954
(& BROWN II v The Board of
Education, Topeka 1955)

How significant was this case in the

civil rights movement?
Summing up the role of
Eisenhower’s speech writer Arthur Larsen summed it all
up very well.
‘From all this there emerges the inescapable conclusion
that President Eisenhower was neither emotionally nor
intellectually in favour of combating segregation’.
Stephen Ambrose: Eisenhower’s biographer, 1990
Eisenhower provided ‘almost no leadership at all’ on
civil rights.
Eisenhower deluded himself into believing that a
gradualist approach was appropriate. He believed
that many blacks held the same view. One of
Eisenhower’s favourite stories heard on the golf
course at Augusta, Georgia highlighted this

A black agricultural worker apparently said: ‘If

someone does not shut up around here,
particularly those Negroes from the North, they
are going to get a lot of us niggers killed!’
Montgomery Bus Boycott
Mobilisation of the black community:
Who was Rosa Previous incident;
Parks? Support from college
MLK involvement & church to
Trigger Event increase involvement of black

Results and Significance of the Leadership:

Boycott: MLK chosen as the NAACP did not
Demonstrated power of black want to get involved and college
community employees faced dismissal
Importance of black economic
power (loss of $1m)
White extremism + black unity
Showed importance of churches
Brought MLK to the forefront
Inspired other future black
activists Black Unanimity:
Was only be successful because
of the full support of the black
Little Rock
Causes of the Crisis:
Orval Faubus re-election
Exploited white racism
Failed to follow Brow & allow segregation
in Central High

Results and Significance:

SC rulings met massive
resistance Melba Pattillo:
Faubus got re-elected 4 Activist inspired by
times Montgomery
Desegregation was still Although under protest from
not universally in operation her family and friends agreed
The image of black
children being harassed
to be a part of the LR 9 when
did nothing to help white asked by NAACP
public opinion in the North
Blacks realised they
needed to do more than
Eisenhower’s intervention:
rely on court rulings Only did so when was informed the mob was out of hand
Sent in Federal troops which he swore he would never do
Failed to negotiate a settlement with Faubus and his
appeals to the rioters had been ignored
Constitution & Federal Law were threatened
Was concerned about the US’s international prestige and
Civil Rights Acts (1957 &
1957 – In order to win the black vote in the 1956 election year he aimed to draw up a civil rights bill to
ensure all citizens could exercise the right to vote. In his State of Union address he said he was
shocked that only 7000 of Mississippi’s 900,000 blacks could vote and such questions to prove
eligibility were ridiculous such as ‘how many bubbles are in a bar of soap. Democrats tried to weaken
the bill and claimed it was forcing a co-mingling of white and negro children.
Unfortunately, the act was passed, but it was much weakened and did very little to help blacks exercise
the vote as any person who tried to obstruct a black person from voting would be tried by a white
The act did establish a Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department and a federal Civil Rights
Commission to monitor race relations which pleased some black leaders as it was the first of its kind
since Reconstruction. Others felt it was a sham.

1960 – In late 1958, Eisenhower introduced another bill because he was concerned about bombings of
black schools and churches. While Eisenhower considered the Bill to be moderate, Southern
Democrats again diluted its provisions. It finally became law because both parties sought the black
vote in the presidential election year. The act made it a federal crime to obstruct court ordered
school desegregation and established penalties for obstructing black voting.
These 2 acts only added 3% of black voters to the electoral roles during 1960. Contemporaries were
unimpressed, but at least the acts acknowledged federal responsibilities, which encouraged civil
rights activists to work for more legislation.
Cold War & Decolonisation
Cold War
The need for unity during the Cold War helps to explain Eisenhower’s frequent inactivity on civil
rights. He did not want to antagonise the white majority. Black civil rights activists with
Communist sympathies became very unpopular. The Cold War helped as well as hindered the
civil rights movement. It was difficult for both Truman & Eisenhower to try to rally the free
world against Communism when blacks in the American South were clearly un-free.

Decolonisation (Independence of former colonies after WWII)

African Americans were fascinated by the emergence of independent African nations. There were
frequent contacts between black Americans and Africans.
The newly emerging African nations, the embarrassment caused by the number of non-white
foreign dignitaries exposed to segregation in Washington, and the Cold War combined to
persuade the Eisenhower administration to act. It is probably no coincidence that the 1956
Hungarian uprising against Soviet oppression and Britain granting independence to Ghana
were followed by the Civil Rights Act in the USA.
Eisenhower - Conclusions
Eisenhower did not seem keen to help the movement for black equality.
His biographer, Stephen Ambrose, said that
‘until his hand was forced a Little Rock he had provided almost no leadership at all on the most
fundamental social and moral problem of his time’.
Supporters say his ‘evolutionary’ approach to civil rights was best for national unity.
Eisenhower’s favourite story he heard on a golf course in Augusta, an agricultural worker
supposedly said
“If someone does not shut up around here, particularly those Negroes from the North, they are
going to get a lot of us niggers killed”.
Historian Robert Cook said that ‘relative federal inactivity’ and ‘limited organisational goals’ were
the main reason for a standstill in the civil rights movement in the 1950’s.
Black people were the major forces in bringing change.
NAACP were the force behind Supreme Court decisions (Brown), Montgomery & Little Rock.
This pressure forced Eisenhower to propose Civil Rights legislation.
Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Acts were seen as either irrelevant as they were so weak or another
breach in the dam.
While there were signs that mass action could bring success, there was still no single, mass
To what extent was Eisenhower
committed to racial equality?