An arresting paradox emerged in 1962. History will doubtless judge the year as making a favorable turning point in the struggle for equality, yet it was also the year that civil rights was displaced as the dominant issue in domestic politics. Although thundering events in Oxford, Miss., and Albany, Ga., captured public attention, there was a perceptible diminishing in the concern of the nation to achieve a just solution of the problem.
Part of the blame must be laid to the Administration’s cautious tactics. Early in the year, the President backed away from the Senate I fight to amend Rule 22, the so-called filibuster rule; had he entered the fray, the amendment would probably have passed and the greatest obstacle to the passage of civil-rights legislation would have been smashed. (Despite this experience, the President again remained aloof, under similar circumstances, in January of this year, and again the amendment failed to carry.) True, 1962 was the year of the Cuban crisis, which understandably tended to dwarf all other issues. Yet even in the shadow of Cuba, such issues as trade legislation and tax reform took the play away from civil rights in editorial columns, public debate and headlines.
The Administration’s circumscribed actions, in the civil-rights field was generally accepted by, the public;. even liberal forces proved watchful rather than anxious, hopeful rather than insistent. The demand for progress was somehow drained of its moral imperative, and the issue no longer commanded the conscience of the nation as it had in previous years.
The decline of civil rights as the Number One domestic issue was a direct consequence, I believe, of the rise and public acceptance of “tokenism.” The American people have, not abandoned the quest for equal rights; rather, they have been persuaded to accept token victories as indicative of genuine and satisfactory progress.
An impressive list of government actions took place in 1962 affecting job opportunities, voting rights, desegregation bf public facilities, the appointment of Negroes to official posts, housing discrimination, etc. In fairness, it must be said that this Administration has outstripped previous ones in the breadth of its civil-rights activities. Yet the movement, instead of breaking out into the open plains of progress, remains constricted and confined. A sweeping revolutionary force is pressed into a narrow tunnel.
This is inevitable when sharply limited goals are set as objectives in place of substantial accomplishments. While merely 7 per cent of Negro children in the South attend integrated schools, the major battle of the year was over one Negro in a Mississippi university. Two thousand school districts remain segregated after nearly a decade of litigation based upon Supreme Court decisions
Hundreds of Southern communities continue to segregate public facilities, yet even after the immense efforts and sacrifices of the weary Negro citizens of Albany, Ga., the government enters the fray only at the periphery, filing an amicus curiae brief & a law suit.