President Richard M. Nixon (1960 - 1968)

Part VIII
The Civil Rights Movement

Unfortunately for the recently reelected President Richard Nixon, his second term would not go nearly so well as his first. Nixon, a master of foreign affairs, was suffocated by a litany of domestic problems in the first part of his second term. Not nearly as skillful at dealing with domestic affairs, Nixon was backed into a corner in his second term and was forced to deal with the domestic legislation he had neglected due to the crises of his first term.

The first piece of domestic America which Nixon was forced to deal with was the woeful inadequacies of the treatment of blacks in the South. Nixon stepped hesitantly at first, unsure of what position to take. He feared losing the support of not only the liberal wing of the Republican Party but of the white southerners drifting slowly towards the Republican Party due to the increasing militancy of the Democratic Party on the issue of civil rights.

During Nixon�s first term in office, the numerous foreign policy crises which confronted the United States drew public attention away from civil rights. During this time, the nonviolent protests of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee had staged sit-ins and nonviolent protests and boycotts, all of which were quickly put to an end by the Governors of the South. All of which went unnoticed by the average American citizen.

One man who didn�t miss these protests and riots, however, was Richard Nixon. By the end of 1963, Nixon had ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to place the leaders of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Ella Baker, and Andrew Young, under surveillance. The order was not placed out of hatred for the civil rights movement itself, but rather caution for fear that socialism and/or communism might be creeping into the movement. In fact, with the international crises out of the way, Nixon, ever the pragmatist, quickly set about in an attempt to end discrimination against African-Americans.
              Martin Luther King, Jr.                                     J. Edgar Hoover                                             Ralph Abernathy       
Nixon requested that Congress pass a bill eliminated many of the discriminatory processes within the South, such as poll taxes. The Democratic Congress reacted favorably to the rhetoric coming out of the White House. It appeared, for the moment anyway, as if the White House was going to throw their full support behind integration. This moved displease many of the most conservative Republicans, who felt that the federal government did not have the power to assert their will upon the state governments in such a way.

However, in the summer of 1965, Richard Nixon�s will would be tested. A black man by the name of John Madison attempted to apply to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, the white students and the state government did not want this to happen. Nixon, knowing that Governor George Wallace was planning on personally blocking the doors of the school, mobilized the Alabama National Guard, which grudgingly forced the admission of Madison into the school.

In the winter of 1965, Nixon signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 initiated by a Democratic member of the House of Representatives. The bill transformed American society. It prohibited discrimination in public facilities, in government, and in employment. This simple statement understates the large shift in American society that occurred as a result. The Jim Crow laws in the South were finally swept away, and it was illegal to compel segregation of the races in schools, housing, or hiring. Although initially enforcement powers were weak, they grew over the years, and such later programs as affirmative action (which was later deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) were made possible by the Civil Rights Act.

While many applauded Nixon, and, for a time, it appeared as if Nixon could score domestic, as well as international, coups, the era of good feelings was short lived. Nixon would soon choke on his own support of the civil rights movement. In March of 1966, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot dead by a sniper while driving his car in the parking lot of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Suddenly, with the pull of a trigger, a white supremacist by the name of John Patler had ended any aura of good feelings and caused bitter resentment on the part of both whites and blacks. The riots were about to begin.
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