Herbert Brownell, GOP civil rights hero

Michael Zak
During February, Black History Month, Republican candidates and office-holders should hail the GOP's heritage of civil rights achievement.  A forgotten hero of the modern-day civil rights movement, Herbert Brownell, was born on this day in 1904.

A protégé of Gov. Thomas Dewey, Brownell entered Republican politics as a New York state legislator.  He served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, 1944-1946.  Brownell helped convince Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to seek the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, and then became President Eisenhower's Attorney General.

Herbert Brownell was instrumental in the appointment of his old friend, Republican Gov. Earl Warren, as Chief Justice in 1953.  The next year, Brownell's Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court arguing against racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.  It was he who suggested to Eisenhower that he send U.S. troops to force the Democrat Governor of Arkansas to obey court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock public schools.

During the five terms of the FDR and Truman presidencies, the Democrats had not proposed any civil rights legislation.  President Eisenhower, in contrast, at last focused the federal government on implementing the GOP's original vision for reform of the South.  He asked Attorney General Brownell to write the first federal civil rights legislation since the Republican Party's 1875 Civil Rights Act.

In his January 1957 State of the Union address, President Eisenhower re-submitted Brownell's bill to Congress, where it had languished the year before.  Brownell's original draft would have permitted the Attorney General to sue anyone violating another person's constitutional rights, but this powerful provision would have to wait until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The new law would establish a Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department and a Civil Rights Division, and authorized the Attorney General to request injunctions from federal courts against any attempt to deny someone's right to vote.  The bill had to be weakened considerably to secure enough Democrat votes to pass, so violations would be civil, not criminal offenses, and penalties were light. 

From the beginning, the 1957 Civil Rights Act had overwhelming support in the House of Representatives.  As ever, southern Democrats in the Senate were the chief obstacle, and Vice President Nixon played a key role in outmaneuvering them.  Another Dewey's protégés, Vice President Richard Nixon, campaigned hard for passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, declaring: "Most of us will live to see the day when American boys and girls shall sit, side by side, at any school - public or private - with no respect paid to the color of skin.  Segregation, discrimination, and prejudice have no place in America."

Attorney General Brownell, who could justly have chosen this moment to trumpet his bill as a tremendous achievement for our Grand Old Party, instead resigned from the Cabinet soon after President Eisenhower signed it into law.  And so, when Senate Republicans and their Democrat allies overcame a Democrat filibuster to pass the bill, a Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, received acclaim for the 1957 Rights Act - written in fact by Herbert Brownell, Republican civil rights hero.

The information here is based on Back to Basics for the Republican Party, a history of the GOP from the civil rights perspective.  See http://www.republicanbasics.com/ for more information.
During February, Black History Month, Republican candidates and office-holders should hail the GOP's heritage of civil rights achievement.  A forgotten hero of the modern-day civil rights movement, Herbert Brownell, was born on this day in 1904.

A protégé of Gov. Thomas Dewey, Brownell entered Republican politics as a New York state legislator.  He served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, 1944-1946.  Brownell helped convince Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to seek the 1952 Republican presidential nomination, and then became President Eisenhower's Attorney General.

Herbert Brownell was instrumental in the appointment of his old friend, Republican Gov. Earl Warren, as Chief Justice in 1953.  The next year, Brownell's Justice Department submitted a brief to the Supreme Court arguing against racial segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.  It was he who suggested to Eisenhower that he send U.S. troops to force the Democrat Governor of Arkansas to obey court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock public schools.

During the five terms of the FDR and Truman presidencies, the Democrats had not proposed any civil rights legislation.  President Eisenhower, in contrast, at last focused the federal government on implementing the GOP's original vision for reform of the South.  He asked Attorney General Brownell to write the first federal civil rights legislation since the Republican Party's 1875 Civil Rights Act.

In his January 1957 State of the Union address, President Eisenhower re-submitted Brownell's bill to Congress, where it had languished the year before.  Brownell's original draft would have permitted the Attorney General to sue anyone violating another person's constitutional rights, but this powerful provision would have to wait until the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The new law would establish a Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department and a Civil Rights Division, and authorized the Attorney General to request injunctions from federal courts against any attempt to deny someone's right to vote.  The bill had to be weakened considerably to secure enough Democrat votes to pass, so violations would be civil, not criminal offenses, and penalties were light. 

From the beginning, the 1957 Civil Rights Act had overwhelming support in the House of Representatives.  As ever, southern Democrats in the Senate were the chief obstacle, and Vice President Nixon played a key role in outmaneuvering them.  Another Dewey's protégés, Vice President Richard Nixon, campaigned hard for passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, declaring: "Most of us will live to see the day when American boys and girls shall sit, side by side, at any school - public or private - with no respect paid to the color of skin.  Segregation, discrimination, and prejudice have no place in America."

Attorney General Brownell, who could justly have chosen this moment to trumpet his bill as a tremendous achievement for our Grand Old Party, instead resigned from the Cabinet soon after President Eisenhower signed it into law.  And so, when Senate Republicans and their Democrat allies overcame a Democrat filibuster to pass the bill, a Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson, received acclaim for the 1957 Rights Act - written in fact by Herbert Brownell, Republican civil rights hero.

The information here is based on Back to Basics for the Republican Party, a history of the GOP from the civil rights perspective.  See http://www.republicanbasics.com/ for more information.