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Statement by Senator Kennedy on Civil Rights Legislation

September 01, 1960

The following 23 Senators, who with Senator Kennedy and a few others (including 5 Republicans) supported each of the key civil rights measures this session, joined Senator Kennedy in the attached joint statement.

E. L. Bartlett, Alaska
John A. Carroll, Colorado
Joseph S. Clark, Pennsylvania
Clair Engle, California
Ernest Gruening, Alaska
Philip A. Hart, Michigan
Vance Hartke, Indiana
Thomas C. Hennings, Jr., Missouri
Hubert H. Humphrey, Minnesota
Henry M. Jackson, Washington
John F. Kennedy, Massachusetts
Warren G. Magnuson, Washington
Eugene J. McCarthy, Minnesota
Pat McNamara, Michigan
Wayne Morse, Oregon
Frank E. Moss, Utah
James E. Murray, Montana
Edmund S. Muskie, Maine
John O. Pastore, Rhode Island
William Proxmire, Wisconsin
Jennings W. Randolph, West Virginia
Stuart Symington, Missouri
Harrison A. Williams, Jr., New Jersey
Stephen M. Young, Ohio
(From the Office of Senator John F. Kennedy, Room 362, Senate Office Bldg., Sept. 1, l960)


The time has come to set the record straight on civil rights legislation in this windup session of Congress. All the Senators joining me in this statement, as well as many others sharing these views, support effective civil rights legislation.

We have not tried to match the 11th hour Republican tactic of substituting staged political maneuvering for effective legislation. Rather than yield to their efforts to play politics with a great moral question, we will take this issue to the American people.

The Republican leadership of the Senate knows full well that under the parliamentary situation of these final crowded weeks - and in the political atmosphere of rancor that developed - no significant civil rights measure could have passed. This same political atmosphere has also prevented action on a farm bill and on adequate minimum wage, housing, health care for the aged, and education bills.

But progressive legislation has not been the aim of the Republican leadership. Their aim has been:

(1) To block the minimum wage bill (which in its first year of operation would have raised the wages of an estimated 1 million Negro workers), the aged health care, housing, and education bills (which also would have meant major advances in the rights of our lower income and minority group members). A majority of Republicans voted against the minimum wage bill, all but one voted against social security health care for the aged and not one Republican on the House Rules Committee was ready to let adequate education and housing bills come up for final action.

(2) To embarrass the Democratic Party, which can point with pride not only to a more meaningful platform but to the only record of legislative achievement in this field in over three-quarters of a century.

(3) To conceal their own empty, negative record.

If the majority of Republicans were sincere about the two token proposals they now press, they would not have supplied the votes that defeated them this spring, when, led by the minority leader, they proposed by a 2-1 margin the very bills he now advances.

If the Republican administration were sincere about its pleas for civil rights, it would take executive action now - executive action to end inequality in all Federal housing programs as the Civil Rights Commission unanimously proposed nearly a year ago and which the President could do by a stroke of his pen - and executive action to make effective the Government Contracts Committee, which for 7 years of Mr. Nixon's chairmanship has taken no enforcement action aside from one or two threats in the District of Columbia. Such Presidential action, not legislation, is what is required to enforce the covenants against racial discrimination in all Government contracts. And if the Republican administration were sincere in advancing civil rights it would make more effective use of the new powers to protect the right to vote granted by Congress after 9 weeks of debate earlier this session.

We challenge the Republican leadership's sincerity - and we think the American people will challenge it. We believe our credentials are clear. On each of the key votes this session - the votes for cloture, for title III authorization of civil rights suits by the Attorney General and for the strengthening of the proposed machinery to protect the right to vote as well as for the two measures which were belatedly pressed - a majority of the Republicans voted against civil rights, while we were supporting civil rights. Only five Republican Senators had a similar record in support of civil rights on these five key issues this session - and they did not have the support of the Republican administration at any critical point.

This past record, including the record of these recent weeks, indicates that no action on the great fronts of social legislation, including civil rights, will be possible until there is a new President strongly supporting such action and a new Congress with a mandate from the people.

Therefore, we pledge action to obtain consideration of a civil rights bill by the Senate early next session that will implement the pledges of the Democratic platform. Our purpose will be to assure to each American his full constitutional rights and to "make equal opportunity a living reality for all Americans."


In order to implement this pledge and assure prompt action I have asked Senator Clark and Congressman Celler to constitute a committee to prepare a comprehensive civil rights bill, embodying our platform commitments, for introduction at the beginning of the next session. We will seek the enactment of this bill early in that Congress.

Further, I give my assurance that in whatever position I hold in public office I will support and take every step necessary to protect the full constitutional right of every American.

John F. Kennedy, Statement by Senator Kennedy on Civil Rights Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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