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INTRODUCTION

THE COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS

ITS ASSIGNMENT AND OPERATIONS

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In 1957, the Congress of the United States was disturbed by allegations that some American citizens were being denied the right to vote, or otherwise deprived of the equal protection of the laws, because of their race, color, creed, or national origin.

In Congressional committee hearings and later in floor debate, there were wide differences of opinion about the truth of these reports. From these differences arose strong bipartisan agreement that an objective, bipartisan commission should be created to conduct a comprehensive investigation.

In presenting President Eisenhower's request for a “full scale public study," Attorney General Herbert Brownell, Jr. declared that it should be objective and free from partisanship, broad and at the same time thorough. The Attorney General further testified that such a study, fairly conducted, “will tend to unite responsible people ... in common effort to solve these problems.” He continued:

Investigation and hearings will bring into sharper focus the area of responsibility of the Federal Government and of the States under our constitutional system. Through greater public understanding, therefore, the Commission may chart a course of progress to guide us in the years ahead." The House Judiciary Committee reported that the need for a commission was “to be found in the very nature of the problem involved; the complexity of the subject matter demands greater knowledge and understanding of every facet of the problem.” 2

In the Senate, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson observed that the proposed commission "can be a useful instrument. It can gather facts instead of charges; it can sift out the truth from the fancies; and it can return with recommendations which will be of assistance to reasonable men." 3

On September 9, 1957, in the first civil rights bill since 1875, Congress provided for the establishment of such a commission as an independent agency within the executive branch.

* Letter to the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, April 6, 1956; reiterated before the House Judiciary Committee. See 85th Cong., H. Rep. 291, Apr. 1, 1957, p. 14.

2 85th Cong., H. Rep. 291, Apr. 1, 1957, p. 8.
· Congressional Record, Aug. 7, 1957, p. 12637 (dally edition).

It was to be a Commission on Civil Rights, empowered only to investigate, to study, to appraise, and to make findings and recommendations. It was not to be a Commission for the enforcement of civil rights. It would have no connection with the Department of Justice and no enforcing powers other than to issue subpoenas and seek court enforcement thereof in connection with its factfinding investigations.

Specifically, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 directed the Commission to

(1) investigate allegations in writing under oath or affirmation that certain citizens of the United States are being deprived of their right to vote and have that vote counted by reason of their color, race, religion, or national origin, which writing, under oath or affirmation, shall set forth the facts upon which such belief or beliefs are based;

(2) study and collect information concerning legal developments constituting a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Constitution; and

(3) appraise the laws and policies of the Federal Government with respect to equal protection of the laws under the

Constitution.* The Commission was instructed to submit to the President and Congress a comprehensive report of its activities, findings, and recommendations not later than two years from the enactment of the Act.

APPOINTMENT AND CONFIRMATION OF MEMBERS AND STAFF DIRECTOR

For reasons beyond its control, the Commission was unable to begin full-scale operations during the first eight months of the two-year study period in the Act.

On November 7, 1957, the President nominated the following members: Stanley Reed, retired Supreme Court Justice (chairman); John Hannah, President of Michigan State University; John S. Battle, former Governor of Virginia ; the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame; Robert G. Storey, Dean of the Southern Methodist University Law School; Assistant Secretary of Labor J. Ernest Wilkins.

On December 2, 1957, Mr. Justice Reed resigned. The President nominated Dr. Hannah to be Chairman, and Doyle E. Carlton, former Governor of Florida, to be the sixth member. The President also endorsed the Commission's choice of Dean Storey to be Vice Chairman. Hearings on these nominations were held February 24, 1958, by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate confirmed the nom

• Sec. 104 (a) (1)-(3) of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Public Law 85–315, 85th Cong., Sept. 9, 1957.

inations on March 4, 1958. The President's nominee for Staff Director was Gordon M. Tiffany, former Attorney General of New Hampshire, whose nomination was sent to the Senate on February 18, 1958. Hearings were held by the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 2, and not until May 14 did the Senate confirm the nomination. Only then could the Commission and its Staff Director proceed with the authority provided in the Act. Thus only 16 months remained to conduct and report the investigations, studies, and appraisals prescribed by Congress.

ORGANIZATION OF STAFF

The nucleus of a staff had been assembled pending the confirmation

a of the Staff Director. An Executive Secretary, Mrs. Carol Arth, was loaned by the State Department to take charge of office personnel and public liaison. The Commission had decided early that each Commissioner could recommend one lawyer for appointment as his legal assistant, who would also serve on the regular staff of the Commission under the Staff Director. Three of these lawyers were available to study the legislative history of the Act and contribute to the initial planning

George M. Johnson resigned as Dean of the Howard University Law School to join the staff as Director of Planning and Research. A. H. Rosenfeld, an attorney and former Army colonel, became Chief of the Complaints and Field Survey Division. Francis P. Brassor, a veteran civil servant who had been Executive Director of both Hoover Commissions, served as Consultant on Organization during the initial period.

On July 1, 1958, the Commission delegated to the Staff Director authority in all matters of staff organization. Subsequently three main offices were established within the Commission: a Secretariat and Liaison Office supervised by Mrs. Arth; an Office of Complaints, Information, and Survey headed by Col. Rosenfeld, and an Office of Laws, Plans, and Research directed by Dean Johnson.

STATE ADVISORY COMMITTEES

One of the early decisions of the Commission was to organize a State Advisory Committee of five to nine members within every State and Territory, as authorized by Section 105(c) of the Act. Serving without pay, the committees were invited to study whatever

, civil rights problems seemed to them important within their areas and to report their findings and recommendations to the Commission.

To organize the advisory committees and to coordinate their work, the Commission obtained the consulting service of Frank Bane, former Secretary of the Council of State Governments, and Henry M. Shine, Jr., a Dallas, Texas, attorney who had served as assistant to Dean Storey on the Hoover Commission. Later Mr. Shine became Assistant Staff Director in charge of the State Advisory Committees Section of the staff.

In order to maintain direct contact between the Commissioners and the State committees, each Commissioner was assigned eight states for his general supervision. The States assigned to any single Commissioner were not within any single region. Rather, to familiarize the Commissioners with the different regional aspects of their problem, each was assigned States in the North, South, West, and East. The legal assistants to the Commissioners prepared handbooks including the laws, cases and factual background of each State for use by the Commissioners, the staff, and the State Advisory Committees. As an alternative to expensive field offices and a large investigating staff, the Commission subscribed to newspapers in every State. Thus, the staff kept abreast of civil rights news in every State at small expense.

Among the first advisory committees organized were those in Texas, Indiana, Virginia, Michigan, and Florida, home States of five of the Commissioners. By August 1959, there were committees in all of the 50 States except Mississippi and South Carolina.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS REPORTS

Another early decision of the Commission was to ask the Legislative Reference Section of the Library of Congress to assemble some of the voluminous legal materials necessary for the Commission's studies, including Federal and State constitutional provisions and statutes involving civil rights, and the interpretations of these laws by courts and administrative bodies.

The first of these compilations was delivered to the Commission late in August, 1958. They were sent to the members of the staff studying assigned geographical areas and to the respective State Advisory Committees. Eventually there were some 8,000 pages of legal compilations, believed to comprise the most comprehensive collection of legal information on civil rights ever assembled. Copies will be deposited in the Library of Congress and State libraries.

SCOPE OF COMMISSION STUDIES

As noted earlier, Congress specified that the Commission must investigate alleged denials of the right to vote by reason of color, race, religion, or national origin. Under its further mandate to study, collect information on, and appraise legal developments and Federal laws and policies affecting the equal protection of the laws, the Cominission clearly lacked time to study all fields so affected. After considering public education, housing, administration of justice, employment, public accommodations, government facilities, and transportation, the Commission decided for reasons made clear in this report to concentrate on public education, housing and voting. However, to the extent that it had time, the Legislative Reference Service of the Library of Congress included within the scope of its compilations all eight fields, and State Advisory Committees were invited to select any of these or other subjects that seemed urgent in their States.

Three staff study-teams of attorneys and political scientists, working in the Commission's Office of Laws, Plans, and Research, were assigned to the areas of education, housing and voting. The voting team necessarily worked closely with the Office of Complaints, Information, and Survey, which received voting complaints and conducted preliminary surveys. All three study groups prepared detailed questionnaires, which were sent to each State Advisory Committee requesting information on the situation in each State. All three groups conducted field inquiries and surveys, with the cooperation of the Office of Complaints, Information, and Survey.

VOTING INVESTIGATIONS

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Beginning with a modest staff, the Commission was careful to expand only as circumstances required. No sworn voting complaint was received until August 14, 1958. Within a few days the Commission authorized a field investigation and promptly and unanimously ordered such investigations of the other voting complaints that came in during succeeding months. Eventually, field investigations were made in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Tennessee.

HEARINGS AND CONFERENCES

The Commission's first public hearing was held in Montgomery, Alabama, December 8 and 9, 1958, in connection with the investigation of voting complaints from several Alabama counties. A public hearing on Louisiana voting complaints, scheduled to be held in Shreveport on July 13, 1959, was postponed at the last moment when the State's Attorney General obtained a restraining order from a Federal district judge. Other hearings and conferences were held on housing and education. On March 5 and 6, 1959, by Commission invitation, officials of school systems that had undergone partial or complete desegregation convened in Nashville, Tenn., to compare their thoughts and experiences. During 1959, the Commission held housing hearings in New York City (Feb. 2 and 3), Atlanta (April 10), and Chicago (May 5 and 6), and it met in Washington, D.C., on June 10 with the heads of Federal housing agencies.

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