Eisenhower and Civil Rights

Dwight David Eisenhower was the thirty fourth president of the United States, serving between 1953 and 1961. Born in 1890 in Texas, he would go ahead to become one of the greatest presidents of the United States and one of the most able army general America has ever witnessed. His major accomplishments as the president of the United States internationally include initiating a ceasefire in the Korean War, starting the space race during the cold war among many others. Domestically, he is touted for his apt policies and for energizing the struggle towards the fight for civil rights to the minority communities in the United States.

Eisenhower plunged into politics after his notable successes in the Second World War that would see him emerge an American hero. He was urged by the Draft Eisenhower Movement to delve into politics and run against the Republican Robert Taft. Americans by then had become fatigued by the Korean War and confusion was rife in the air. Eisenhower was touted as a possible candidate and he went ahead to clinch the presidency against the democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

He was elected on a platform of radical shift from Truman’s policies especially his stand on the Korean War. He also pledged to address civil rights for all American citizens and maintain an efficient administration that was devoid of corruption The attention of President Eisenhower towards the intricacies of civil rights would be drawn by the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. This was a notable accomplishment in the history of the civil rights campaigns.

The supreme court made a ruling overturning a century old ruling in the 1890 Plessey v Ferguson which had ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment was not violated by the segregation policy in place because both the blacks and the whites were equal, only that they received segregated facilities. In the Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, the plaintiffs were arguing that the racial segregation system was unfair to the blacks as it ended up providing them with inferior facilities compared to their whites’ counterparts. The Supreme Court in its ruling declared the segregation unconstitutional and as against the equal protection clause.

Hostility immediately broke out in the various states towards the south and Eisenhower had to order a federal troops crackdown. His most notable instance of decisiveness would come upon his order to the troops to stop the efforts of the then Arkansas Governor Arval Faubus who was blocking black students from entering the Little Rock High School contrary to a court order. Though Eisenhower actions were likely to have some minor political ramifications due to the mounting displeasure in the south, it would remain an important moment in his presidency and would re-ignite the activism for civil rights that were to follow.

It is this court’s decision and Eisenhower’s unshakeable belief in the retrogressive nature of the segregation policy that would inspire the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 To understand the magnanimity of Eisenhower’s achievement as far as civil rights act is concerned, it is important to look at the near insurmountable challenges and odds he faced as he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. A bill that was rigidly opposed by most of the southern states, as they had always done to every proposal that was seeking to extend civil and political liberties to the blacks in the south.

The greatest challenges and impediments to the passing of this bill in this case was one James Strom Thurmond, who was a Democratic Party senator in South Carolina. He represented a largely anti civil rights territory and would see him initiate the lengthiest filibuster in the history of the United States. A filibuster simply refers to a decision by a number of house members to obstruct proceedings in a concerted bid to curtail the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 into law.

Due to the party support factor, most democrats were opposed to the bill and this would greatly affect its effectiveness as espoused by Eisenhower. There had existed historically deep held resentments in the south towards any move by the federal government to initiate civil and political reforms that were likely to alter the segregation policies in Eisenhower’s predecessor. President Truman ran into trouble politically as a result of his efforts to introduce a civil rights bill.

The passing of the Civil Rights Act was rocked by the understanding that the deeply rooted practices towards segregation especially in the south would take time to change . The first three years in President Eisenhower’s tenure did not witness any profound effects towards civil and political rights but it could be discerned from his speeches that he held deep resentment for the status quo. This is what would prompt him to issue an Executive Order aimed at rooting out any efforts to prevent blacks from accessing the whites-only schools.

He set forth precedence when he appointed Frederic Marrow to be the first ever white house executive staffer. Eisenhower personal attitude towards segregation and racism had a great impact on his civil rights policies. It ha s to be understood that he was not a drum beat activist, he was a conservative. This however has to be into a historical context considering the raging opposition to such views by the southern Democrats who emerged to be more vocal than the Republicans.

The gains he made in civil rights were also driven by the conviction that he was the president of the United States and not of the whites alone; his fiscal and monetary policies hence could not discriminate against any race. Prior to the ruling by the Supreme Court that segregation along racial lines in the public schools was unconstitutional, Eisenhower had made unprecedented steps such as the full implementation of Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 . This order had the objective of eliminating discrimination in the military academics, accommodations, hospitals alongside many other services.

By the time of Eisenhower entry, the military was largely segregated to the disfavor of the blacks but after his tenure notable reforms seeking to eliminate this persistent racism had been instituted, the first radical shift from the segregation in America. His administration took another unprecedented effort to have the court invoke the anti segregation laws as taken up by President Abraham Lincoln during the reconstruction period. Majority of these small but far reaching policies had no significant political costs.

Although Eisenhower action sending of troops to Central High School was monumental in his civil rights activism, it is the decision to appoint moderates and other judges that were sympathetic towards desegregation that would win the battle. This was his notable contribution to civil rights campaigns and activism. These appointments were made in the understanding that segregation could only be tackled from a state level approach devoid of federal enforcements. These appointees were only supposed to observe the rule of law as stipulated in the constitution and segregation would gradually cease.

It is without doubt that Eisenhower ranks highly as far as the initiation of civil rights in America is concerned. His accomplishments in this aspect were unequalled even by his successors JF Kennedy and Richard Nixon. In his tenure, he proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957 that would allow blacks to vote. He enforced the supreme courts ruling to end segregation in public schools by sending troops in the defiant states as well as introducing reforms in the army and public sector, reforms that would open up opportunities to the blacks.


Ambrose, Stephen E. 1983. Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 Eisenhower, Dwight D, 1963. Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 Summersby, Kay. 1949. Eisenhower was my boss (1948) New York: Prentice Hall; Dell paperback Pach, Chester J. and Elmo Richardson. , 1991. Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower Standard scholarly survey McAuliffe, Mary S, 1981. Eisenhower, the President. Journal of American History.