Dwight D. Eisenhower photo

Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights.

February 05, 1959

To the Congress of the United States:
Two principles basic to our system of government are that the rule of law is supreme, and that every individual regardless of his race, religion, or national origin is entitled to the equal protection of the laws. We must continue to seek every practicable means for reinforcing these principles and making them a reality for all.

The United States has a vital stake in striving wisely to achieve the goal of full equality under law for all people. On several occasions I have stated that progress toward this goal depends not on laws alone but on building a better understanding. It is thus important to remember that any further legislation in this field must be clearly designed to continue the substantial progress that has taken place in the past few years. The recommendations for legislation which I am making have been weighed and formulated with this in mind.

First, I recommend legislation to strengthen the law dealing with obstructions of justice so as to provide expressly that the use of force or threats of force to obstruct Court orders in school desegregation cases shall be a Federal offense.

There have been instances where extremists have attempted by mob violence and other concerted threats of violence to obstruct the accomplishment of the objectives in school decrees. There is a serious question whether the present obstruction of justice statute reaches such acts of obstruction which occur after the completion of the court proceedings. Nor is the contempt power a satisfactory enforcement weapon to deal with persons who seek to obstruct court decrees by such means.

The legislation that I am recommending would correct a deficiency in the present law and would be a valuable enforcement power on which the government could rely to deter mob violence and such other acts of violence or threats which seek to obstruct court decrees in desegregation cases.

Second, I recommend legislation to confer additional investigative authority on the FBI in the case of crimes involving the destruction or attempted destruction of schools or churches, by making flight from one State to another to avoid detention or prosecution for such a crime a Federal offense.

All decent, self-respecting persons deplore the recent incidents of bombings of schools and places of worship. While State authorities have been diligent in their execution of local laws dealing with these crimes, a basis for supplementary action by the federal government is needed.

Such recommendation when enacted would make it dear that the FBI has full authority to assist in investigations of crimes involving bombings of schools and churches. At the same time, the legislation would preserve the primary responsibility for law enforcement in local law enforcement agencies for crimes committed against local property.

Third, I recommend legislation to give the Attorney General power to inspect Federal election records, and to require that such records be preserved for a reasonable period of time so as to permit such inspection.

The right to vote, the keystone of democratic stir-government, must be available to all qualified citizens without discrimination. Until the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the government could protect this right only through criminal prosecutions instituted after the right had been infringed. The 1957 Act attempted to remedy this deficiency by authorizing the Attorney General to institute civil proceedings to prevent such infringements before they occurred.

A serious obstacle has developed which minimizes the effectiveness of this legislation. Access to registration records is essential to determine whether the denial of the franchise was in furtherance of a pattern of racial discrimination. But during preliminary investigations of complaints the Department of Justice, unlike the Civil Rights Commission, has no authority to require the production of election records in a civil proceeding. State or local authorities, in some instances, have refused to permit the inspection of their election records in the course of investigations. Supplemental legislation, therefore, is needed.

Fourth, I recommend legislation to provide a temporary program of financial and technical aid to State and local agencies to assist them in making the necessary adjustments required by school desegregation decisions.

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare should be authorized to assist and cooperate with those States which have previously required or permitted racially segregated public schools, and which must now develop programs of desegregation. Such assistance should consist of sharing the burdens of transition through grants-in-aid to help meet additional costs directly occasioned by desegregation programs, and also of making technical information and assistance available to State and local educational agencies in preparing and implementing desegregation programs.

I also recommend that the Commissioner of Education be specifically authorized, at the request of the States or local agencies, to provide technical assistance in the development of desegregation programs and to initiate or participate in conferences called to help resolve educational problems arising as a result of efforts to desegregate.

Filth, I recommend legislation to authorize, on a temporary basis, provision for the education of children of members of the Armed Forces when State-administered public schools have been closed because of desegregation decisions or orders.

The Federal Government has a particular responsibility for the children of military personnel in Federally affected areas, since Armed Services personnel are located there under military orders rather than of their own free choice. Under the present law, the Commissioner of Education may provide for the education of children of military personnel only in the case of those who live on military reservations or other Federal property. The legislation I am recommending would remove this limitation.

Sixth, I recommend that Congress give consideration to the establishing of a statutory Commission on Equal Job Opportunity under Government Contracts.

Non-discrimination in employment under government contracts is required by Executive Orders. Through education, mediation, and persuasion, the existing Committee on Government Contracts has sought to give effect not only to this contractual obligation, but to the policy of equal job opportunities generally. While the program has been widely accepted by government agencies, employers and unions, and significant progress has been made, full implementation of the policy would be materially advanced by the creation of a statutory Commission.

Seventh, I recommend legislation to extend the life of the Civil Rights Commission for an additional two years. While the Commission should make an interim report this year within the time originally fixed by law for the making of its final report, because of the delay in getting the Commission appointed and staffed, an additional two years should be provided for the completion of its task and the making of its final report.
I urge the prompt consideration of these seven proposals.


Dwight D. Eisenhower, Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/234513

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