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Letter to the Chairman in Response to a Report on Mississippi by the Civil Rights Commission.

April 19, 1963

Dear Dr. Hannah:

I have your letter transmitting the Interim Report of the Civil Rights Commission dated April 16 concerning the serious problems that have developed in the State of Mississippi. The deeply held views of the members of the Commission are fully appreciated, and, along with most Americans, I share the Commission's stated goal of assuring for all citizens of the United States the full enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The record of the Justice Department in promptly investigating any allegation of violation of Federal law and in prosecuting in those cases where there are violations is, I believe, outstanding. With regard to the incidents referred to in the Commission's report, I am advised that every case, but one, has been successfully resolved. In that one case involving an unsolved bombing of the home of the Vice Chairman of the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the Civil Rights Commission, in which there was no personal injury, efforts to apprehend the guilty party or parties have been unsuccessful. The Justice Department is preparing a memorandum detailing its activities in Mississippi which will be available shortly. The Executive Branch of the Federal Government will continue to enforce the laws of the United States as vigorously and effectively as possible.

As I am sure you are aware, the Justice Department has filed an action in the Federal courts in Mississippi seeking injunctive relief against any denial of Constitutional rights, and particularly in connection with efforts to register for voting. The Administration will take every appropriate and possible action to suppress violation of Federal statutes and provide Federal protection to citizens .in the exercise of their basic Constitutional rights.

And determination by the courts that there is a denial of Constitutional rights and violation of United States laws should be respected by all citizens, and I sincerely hope that will be the case in Mississippi. All Mississippians--and indeed all Americans--should join in protecting the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and comply with the laws of the United States.

The Commission's suggestion that Congress and the Executive Branch study the propriety and desirability of legislation authorizing Federal funds to be withheld from any state which fails to comply with the Constitution and the laws of the United States raises difficult and far-reaching considerations. As the report recognizes, the Executive Branch is limited in the discretion it possesses in implementing Federal programs. At the outset, various statutory requirements for distribution of program benefits, competitive bidding statutes, and statutory criteria for participation, as in the case of small business loans. In addition, many major projects, especially water resource projects, once initiated, require continuity. Illustrative is the Jackson Airport grant referred to in the report--the construction grant to this Airport, a participant in the national Airport plan since 1950, is for one of the concluding phases of construction initially commenced in 1957, and involves such safety features for the operation of the Airport as runways, Air Traffic Control, fire and rescue facilities. No Federal aid has been used for terminal facilities at the Airport but steps are being taken to assure that they will be operated on a nondiscriminatory basis. Criteria for locating large Federal installations, such as the NASA facility mentioned in your report, reflect national needs, not state interests. Another difficulty is that in many instances the withholding of funds would serve to further disadvantage those that I know the Commission would want to aid. For example, hundreds of thousands of Negroes in Mississippi receive Social Security, veterans, welfare, school lunch and other benefits from Federal programs--any elimination or reduction of such programs obviously would fall alike on all within the State and in some programs perhaps even more heavily upon Negroes. In any event, I can assure you that the proposal will be promptly and carefully reviewed within the Executive Branch.

We cannot afford to be complacent while any individual's rights are denied or abused. I know that the Commission, like so many other organizations and individuals, feels deeply the need to take positive action in order to correct and prevent abuses in Mississippi and elsewhere that have been brought to public notice. As I have indicated, every possible approach is being considered and those which are appropriate and contain prospects for improving the situation will be employed to the end that the rights guaranteed to all Americans by the Constitution of the United States will be assured.



[Dr. John A. Hannah, Chairman, United States Commission on Civil Rights, Washington 25, D.C.]

Note: The Interim Report of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, dated April 16, 1963 (5 pp., processed), was made available by the Commission.

The memorandum concerning the Justice Department's activities in Mississippi, referred to in the second paragraph of the President's letter, was not made public.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the Chairman in Response to a Report on Mississippi by the Civil Rights Commission. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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