The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Useful treatment of race and the presidency

Serendipitously, in the light of recent pieces on attempts to enact antilynching legislation, I turn up a copy of Russell L Riley's The Presidency and the Politics of Racial Equality (from 1999, I think - no copyright notice, that I can spot!).

Plenty of goodness to be extracted, by the look of it. But a couple of fishing expeditions reeled in supper:

On page 138, it points out [1] (at the start of a section on Franklin Roosevelt) that FDR's
Democratic Party...revealed its attitude towards African Americans in 1928 by segregating black alternate delegates to the party's national convention behind chicken-wire fencing.

He discusses the use to which Eleanor was put by FDR - indulging pipe-dreams with Walter White at the NAACP that her old man could disclaim with an eye-roll. A great little Mutt and Jeff!

Of course, FDR was effectively barred from proposing legislative improvements on race; but the executive branch often has a measure of discretion in the way it applies laws, and this does not seem to have been exercised by his administration in favour of the Negro.

In some cases, the Roosevelt administration went out of its way to pander to Southern sentiment by ensuring Negroes received inferior treatment under New Deal programmes.

Thus (p140),
Roosevelt ignored an explicit nondiscrimination clause in legislation creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, when he backed a controversial proposal by his CCC director to restrict the number of black enrollees. Internal documents indicate that afterward the president asked not to have his name "drawn into the [public] discussion of the matter", which he called "political dynamite."

According to the accompanying note, the CCC enforced segregation even where the state authorities preferred integrated camps.

And, on the Kennedy-Nixon campaign, he points out (p203) that Martin Luther King's father initially endorsed Nixon - and only switched to JFK after the efforts made by Jack and Bobby to get his son released from jail in Atlanta.

The 1950s had been a decade where the Republicans had made progress with the Negro vote and, Riley suggests (p201), in 1960, Nixon's civil rights record was rather better than Kennedy's. The no pasarĂ¡n [2] of Southern Democratic senators helped the GOP no end.

The idea of a return of Negro voters en masse to the party of Lincoln did not sound then as daft it as does today.

More to come, I suspect.

  1. Citing Robert McElvaine's 1984 The Great Depression. According to McElvaine, no Negro delegates had ever been seated at a Democratic national convention.

  2. More precisely, 'they' might 'pass', but only at snail's pace. The Keith Finley thesis is the main online reference for the MO employed.

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