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Civil Rights Act, 1957

Johnson, Lyndon Baines

President Johnson’s five years in office brought about critical civil rights legislation and innovative anti-poverty programs through his Great Society initiative, though his presidency was marred by mishandling of the war in Vietnam. Though Martin Luther King, Jr., called Johnson’s 1964 election “one of America’s finest hours” and believed that Johnson had an “amazing understanding of the depth and dimension of the problem of racial injustice,” King’s outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War damaged his relationship with Johnson and brought an end to an alliance that had enabled major civil rights reforms in America (King, 4 November 1964; King, 16 March 1965).

Diggs, Charles C., Jr.

The first African American to be elected to Congress from Michigan, Charles C. Diggs made significant contributions to the struggle for civil rights through his business and political ties. In an April 1956 telegram to Martin Luther King, Diggs commended the Montgomery Improvement Association president for his “cherished leadership in the fight for equality,” that he described as an “indestructible monument which will defy the ravages of time” (Papers 3:218).

From Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

On 5 June King received a phone call from presidential aide Rocco Siciliano agreeing to his 29 May request for a conference between Eisenhower and civil rights leaders.1 Four days later King met with Siciliano and other administration officials in Washington to establish the parameters of the meeting and to determine who would join him and A. Philip Randolph at the White House.

To Richard M. Nixon

On 30 August following a record-breaking filibuster by South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond, the Senate approved the country’s first major civil rights legislation since 1875.1 King advises Nixon that the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, which had been weakened by the Senate, “is far better than no bill at all,” and conveys his hope that the president would not veto it.2 Nixon replied on 17 September.

Testimony to the Democratic National Convention, Committee on Platform and Resolutions

More than three hundred people testified before the platform and resolutions committee during six days of hearings at the 1956 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Reacting to eventual nominee Adlai Stevenson’s casual suggestion that the Democratic platform should endorse the Brown v. Board of Education decision, southern segregationists argued vehemently in opposition. Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and labor leaders George Meany, Walter Reuther, and A. Philip Randolph were among those who testified in favor of a strong civil rights plank.

To the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

On 30 January the SCLC executive committee gathered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church to finalize plans for the Crusade for Citizenship, a campaign “to double the number of Negroes who vote in the South.” At a press conference following the meeting, SCLC leaders announced that the Crusade would commence on 12 February with simultaneous mass rallies in twenty-one southern cities.1 In the following memorandum, King clarifies the objectives of the Crusade.


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