In addressing social welfare for African Americans in a sense of philosophical influences of the development of legislation and policy, one must first look historically at the foundation of establishing their human and civil rights (3). This foundation took a huge leap during the 1950's in a town called Little Rock.
The Little Rock High School incident of 1957 in Arkansas brought international attention to the civil rights cause. Here in Little Rock, there was a state fighting against federal authority, National Guard troopers facing professional paratroopers and a governor against a president, as President Eisenhower enforced desegregating a school. As part of a media circus, it proved compulsive viewingbut what happened was shown throughout the western world and brought the civil rights issue into the living rooms of many people who may have been unaware of what was going on in the South.
Eisenhower had shown that he had little faith in measures to support the African American community in the South simply because he believed that a change of heart was required and that enforcement would prove worthless; if anything, enforcement would have made matters worse. In 1957 a civil rights bill was being pushed through Congress and Eisenhower made it clear that it did not have his support. This bill was very mild but the leader of the Senate majority, Lyndon Johnson, diluted it so that Southern senators would not ruin what was on paper. The bill was passed into law in 1957 with a 72 to14 vote. It barely changed anything but it was a strong symbol of hope that the law could be used to change Southern society. It was, in fact, the first civil rights act to pass Congress since the Civil War (5). Subsequently, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was born in the presidency of John F Kennedy who was elected president in 1960. Kennedy's support of civil rights issues had in previous years been inconsistent; in addition, he had opposed Eisenhower's Civil Rights Act of 1957 to keep within the Democrats' hierarchy, as he had plans to run for president along side Lynden B. Johnson. The new president was faced with facts that were indisputable and came from the organization created in the 1960 Civil Rights Act to analyze civil rights issue in Americathe Civil Rights Commission. This organization found that:
57% of African American housing judged to be unacceptable
African American life expectancy was 7 years less than whites
African American infant mortality was twice as great as whites
African Americans found it all but impossible to get mortgages from mortgage lenders
Property values would drop a great deal if an African American family moved into a neighborhood that was not a ghetto.
Kennedy himself, in a passionate public speech, made these facts available to the American public. Dually, and constantly, in the background was the poor treatment of people in Eastern Europe during the Soviet occupation of this area. However, America faced the issue of how it could condemn the Russians, while simultaneously turning a blind eye to the clear inequalities existing in its own backyard.
Because of this, there was question as to how Kennedy could proceed. The Cuban Missile Crisis took up a great deal of his short time in power but aligned to this was the fact that few whites considered civil rights a particularly important issue. One 1960's poll put civil rights at the bottom of the list of "What should be done for America?" In fact, Kennedy only won the1960 election by a very small majority (500,000 votes); needless to say, he did not have a popular mandate for doing anything, too, drastic. Furthermore, the Vietnam War (though not officially declared) was absorbing more time with what was American covert action in the region at this time (4).
Kennedy's assassination shocked the world. His vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, suddenly found himself sworn in as president on Air Force One....
References: 1. Birnbaum, Jonathan, Taylor, Clarence. (2000). Civil Rights since 1787: A Reader on the Black Struggle. New York: New York University Press. p. 363-367, 394, 490-517.
2. Barnet, S., Bedau, H. (2002). "I Have a Dream." Current Issues and Enduring Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking and Argument, with Readings. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 6th ed. p. 775.
3. Dolgoff, R., Feldstein, D. (2002). Understanding Social Welfare. New York: Pearsons Education. 6th ed.
4. Franklin, John Hope, Moss, Alfred A. (2000). From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans. New York: McGraw Hill. 8th ed. Vol. 2. p. 506-569.
5. Sugrue, Thomas J. (1996). The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Post War Detroit. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 20-90.
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