Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


To Secure These Rights

THE REPORT OF THE PRESIDENT'S COMMITTEE ON CIVIL RIGHTS

" to secure these rights governments are instituted among men "
The Declaration of Independence

Table of Contents

Assignment from the President
   
I. The American Heritage: The Promise of Freedom and Equality
 
II. The Record: Short of the Goal
     Our Diverse Population
     Signs of Recent Progress
     The Condition of Our Rights
          1 The Right to Safety and Security of the Person
          2. The Right to Citizenship and Its Privileges
          3. The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Expression
          4. The Right to Equality of Opportunity
     Segregation Reconsidered
     Civil Rights in the Nation's Capital
 
III. Government's Responsibility: Securing the Rights
     Constitutional Traditions
     The Role of the Supreme Court
     The Civil Rights Section Experiment
     The Problem of Sanctions
     The Climate of Opinion
 
IV. A Program of Action: The Committee's Recommendations
   
 

 

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[VII]

Assignment from the President

MR. PRESIDENT:
This is the report which we have prepared in accordance with the instructions which you gave to us in your statement and Executive Order on December 5, 1946:

Freedom From Fear is more fully realized in our country than in any other on the face of the earth. Yet all parts of our population are not equally free from fear. And from time to time, and in some places, this freedom has been gravely threatened. It was so after the last war, when organized groups fanned hatred and intolerance, until, at times, mob action struck fear into the hearts of men and women because of their racial origin or religious beliefs.

Today, Freedom From Fear, and the democratic institutions which sustain it, are again under attack. In some places, from time to time, the local enforcement of law and order has broken down, and individuals -- sometimes ex-servicemen, even women -- have been killed, maimed, or intimidated.

The preservation of civil liberties is a duty of every Government-state, Federal and local. Wherever the law enforcement measures and the authority of Federal, state, and local governments are inadequate to discharge this primary function of government, these measures and this authority should be strengthened and improved.

The Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties and of equal protection under the laws clearly place on the Federal Government the duty to act when state or local authorities abridge or fail to protect these Constitutional rights.

Yet in its discharge of the obligations placed on it by the Constitution, the Federal Government is hampered by inadequate civil rights statutes. The protection of our democratic institutions and the enjoyment by the people of their rights under the Constitution require that these weak and inadequate statutes should be expanded and improved. We must provide the Department of Justice with the tools to do the job.

I have, therefore, issued today an Executive Order creating the President's Committee on Civil Rights and I am asking this Committee to prepare for me a written report. The substance of this report will be recommendations with respect to the adoption or establishment by legislation or otherwise of more adequate and effective means and procedures for the protection of the civil rights of the people of the United States.

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EXECUTIVE ORDER 9808 ESTABLISHING THE PRESIDENT'S COMMITTEE ON CIVIL RIGHTS

WHEREAS the preservation of civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution is essential to domestic tranquility, national security, the general welfare, and the continued existence of our free institutions; and

WHEREAS the action of individuals who take the law into their own hands and inflict summary punishment and wreak personal vengeance is subversive of our democratic system of law enforcement and public criminal justice, and gravely threatens our form of government; and

WHEREAS it is essential that all possible steps be taken to safeguard our civil rights:

Now, THEREFORE, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States by the Constitution and the statutes of. the United States, it is hereby ordered as follows:

1. There is hereby created a committee to be known as the President's Committee on Civil Rights, which shall be composed of the following-named members, who shall serve without compensation:

Mr. C. E. Wilson, chairman; Mrs. Sadie T. Alexander, Mr. James B. Carey, Mr. John S. Dickey, Mr. Morris L. Ernst, Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn, Dr. Frank P. Graham, The Most Reverend Francis J. Haas, Mr. Charles Luckman, Mr. Francis P. Matthews, Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr., The Right Reverend Henry Knox Sherrill, Mr. Boris Shishkin, Mrs. M. E. Tilly, Mr. Channing H. Tobias.

2. The Committee is authorized on behalf of the President to inquire into and to determine whether and in what respect current law-enforcement measures and the authority and means possessed by Federal, State, and local governments may be strengthened and improved to safeguard the civil rights of the people.

3. All executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government are authorized and directed to cooperate with the Committee in its work, and to furnish the Committee such information or the services of such persons as the Committee may require in the performance of its duties.

4. When requested by the Committee to do so, persons employed in any of the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government shall testify before the Committee and shall make available for the use of the Committee such documents and other information as the Committee may require.

5. The Committee shall make a report of its studies to the President in writing, and shall in particular make recommendations with respect to the adoption or establishment, by legislation or otherwise, of more adequate and effective means and procedures for the protection of the civil rights of the people of the United States.

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6. Upon rendition of its report to the President, the Committee shall cease to exist, unless otherwise determined by further Executive Order.

HARRY S. TRUMAN
The White House, December 5, 1946.

The Committee's first task was the interpretation of its assignment. We were not asked to evaluate the extent to which civil rights have been achieved in our country. We did not, therefore, devote ourselves to the construction of a balance sheet which would properly assess the great progress which the nation has made, as well as the shortcomings in the record. Instead, we have almost exclusively focused our attention on the bad side of our record-on what might be called the civil rights frontier.

This necessary emphasis upon our country's failures should not be permitted to obscure the real measure of its successes. No fair-minded student of American history, or of world history, will deny to the United States a position of leadership in enlarging the range of human liberties and rights, in recognizing and stating the ideals of freedom and equality, and in steadily and loyally working to make those ideals a reality. Whatever our failures in practice have been or may be, there has never been a time when the American people have doubted the validity .of those ideals. We still regard them as vital to our democratic system.

If our task were to evaluate the level of achievement in our civil rights record, mention would have to be made of many significant developments in our history as a nation. We would want to refer to the steady progress toward the goal of universal suffrage which has marked the years between 1789 and the present. We would want to emphasize the disappearance of brutality from our society to a point where the occurrence of a single act of violence is a shocking event precisely because it is so out of keeping with our system of equal justice under law. And we would want to point to the building of our present economy which surely gives the individual greater social mobility, greater economic freedom of choice than any other nation has ever been able to offer.

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But our purpose is not to praise our country's progress. We believe its impressive achievements must be used as a stimulus to further progress, rather than as an excuse for complacency.

At an early point in our work we decided to define our task broadly, to go beyond the specific flagrant outrages to which the President referred in his statement to the Committee. We have done this because these individual instances are only reflections of deeper maladies. We believe we must cure the disease as well as treat its symptoms. Moreover, we are convinced that the term "civil rights" itself has with great wisdom been used flexibly in American history.

For our present assignment we have found it appropriate to consolidate some individual freedoms under a single heading, to omit others altogether, and to stress still others which have in the past not been given prominence. Our decisions reflect what we consider to be the nation's most immediate needs. Civil rights, after all, are statements of aspirations, of demands which we make on ourselves and our society. We believe that the principles which underlie them are timeless. But we have selected for treatment those whose implementation is a pressing requirement. Throughout our report we have made use of specific data for illustrative purposes.

This report deals with serious civil rights violations in all sections of the country. Much of it has to do with limitations on civil rights in our southern states. To a great extent this reflects reality; many of the most sensational and serious violations of civil rights have taken place in the South. There are understandable historical reasons for this. Among the most obvious is the fact that the greater proportion of our largest, most visible minority group -- the Negroes -- live in the South.

In addition to this seeming stress on the problems of one region, many of our illustrations relate to the members of various minority groups, with particular emphasis upon Negroes. The reasons are obvious; these minorities have often had their civil rights abridged. Moreover, the unjust basis for these abridgements stands out sharply because of the distinctiveness of the groups. To place this apparent. emphasis in its proper perspective one need only recall the history of bigotry

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and discrimination. At various times practically every region in the country has had its share of disgraceful interferences with the rights of some persons. At some time, members of practically every group have had their freedoms curtailed.

In our own time the mobility of our population, including minority groups, is carrying certain of our civil rights problems to all parts of the country. In the near future it is likely that the movement of Negroes from rural to urban areas, and from the South to the rest of the country, will continue. Other minority groups, too, will probably move from their traditional centers of concentration. Unless we take appropriate action on a national scale, their civil rights problems will follow them.

The protection of civil rights is a national problem which affects everyone. We need to guarantee the same rights to every person regardless of who he is, where he lives, or what his racial, religious or national origins are.

 

This report covers a broad field and many complex and controversial matters. It is not to be expected that every member of the Committee would personally put every statement just as it appears here. The report does represent a general consensus of the Committee except on those two specific matters where a substantial division of views is reported.

The Committee held a series of public hearings at which the spokesmen for interested groups made statements and were questioned. We heard some witnesses in private meetings. A number of staff studies gave us additional information. Hundreds of communications were received from interested private citizens and organizations who were anxious to help us with their information and advice.

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From all of this and our own discussions and deliberations we have sought answers to the following:

(1) What is the historic civil rights goal of the American people?
(2) In what ways does our present record fall short of the goal?
(3) What is government's responsibility for the achievement of the goal?
(4.) What further steps does the nation now need to take to reach the goal?

Our report which follows is divided into four sections which provide our answers to these questions.

Sadie T. Alexander
James B. Carey
John S. Dickey
Morris L. Ernst
Roland B. Gittelsohn
Frank P. Graham
Francis J. Haas
Charles Luckman
Francis P. Matthews
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.
Henry Knox Sherrill
Boris Shishkin
Dorothy Tilly
Channing Tobias
Charles E. Wilson, Chairman


Chapter I
The American Heritage: the Promise of Freedom and Equality

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[3]

Chapter I
The American Heritage: the Promise of Freedom and Equality

IN THE time that it takes to read this report, 1,000 Americans will be born. These new Americans will come into families whose religious faiths are a roster of all those which men hold sacred. Their names will be strange and varied, echoes from every corner of the world. Their skins will range in color from black to white. A few will be born to riches, more to average comfort, and too many to poverty. All of them will be Americans.

These new Americans, drawn from all of the races of mankind, provide a challenge to our American democracy. We have a great heritage of freedom and equality for all men, sometimes called "the American way." Yet we cannot avoid the knowledge that the American ideal still awaits complete realization.

It was this knowledge which led the President to create this Committee; and the Committee's assignment has been primarily to discover wherein and to what extent we are presently failing to live up to that ideal. As we have said, this has meant that in its deliberations, and in this report, the Committee has focused its attention, not upon our achievements in protecting our heritage of civil liberties, but upon our shortcomings and our mistakes. These the Committee has not minimized nor has it evaded the responsibility of recommending remedial action. A later section of this report summarizes some of the concrete gains which we have made in the more secure protection of freedom and equality. Further evidence of our adherence to our great heritage in this field is the desire of our government to have our national record carefully scrutinized in an effort to expose our shortcomings and to find ways of correcting them.

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If we are to judge with accuracy how far short we have fallen living up to the ideals which comprise our American heritage of freedom and equality, we must first make clear what that heritage is.

THE IDEAL OF FREEDOM AND EQUALITY

The central theme in our American heritage is the importance of the individual person. From the earliest moment of our history we have believed that every human being has an essential dignity and integrity which must be respected and safeguarded. Moreover, we believe that the welfare of the individual is the final goal of group life. Our American heritage further teaches that to be secure in the rights he wishes for himself, each man must be willing to respect the rights of other men. This is the conscious recognition of a basic moral principle: all men are created equal as well as free. Stemming from this principle is the obligation to build social institutions that will guarantee equality of opportunity to all men. Without this equality freedom becomes an illusion. Thus the only aristocracy that is consistent with the free way of life is an aristocracy of talent and achievement. The grounds on which our society accords respect, influence or reward to each of its citizens must be limited to the quality of his personal character and of his social contribution.

This concept of equality which is so vital a part of the American heritage knows no kinship with notions of human uniformity or regimentation. We abhor the totalitarian arrogance which makes one man say that he will respect another man as his equal only if he has "my race, my religion, my political views, my social position." In our land men are equal, but they are free to be different. From these very differences among our people has come the great human and national strength of America.

Thus, the aspirations and achievements of each member of our society are to be limited only by the skills and energies he brings to the opportunities equally offered to all Americans. We can tolerate no restrictions upon the individual which depend upon irrelevant factors such as his race, his color, his religion or the social position to which he is born.

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GOVERNMENT AND FREEDOM

The men who founded our Republic, as those who have built any constitutional democracy, faced the task of reconciling personal liberty and group authority, or of establishing an equilibrium between them. In a democratic state we recognize that the common interests of the people must be managed by laws and procedures established by majority rule. But a democratic majority, left unrestrained, may be as ruthless and tyrannical as were the earlier absolute monarchs. Seeing this clearly, and fearing it greatly, our forefathers built a constitutional system in which valued personal liberties, carefully enumerated in a Bill of Rights, were placed beyond the reach of popular majorities. Thus the people permanently denied the federal government power to interfere with certain personal rights and freedoms.

Freedom, however, as we now use the term, means even more than the traditional "freedoms" listed in our Bill of Rights -- important as they are. Freedom has come to mean the right of a man to manage his own affairs as he sees fit up to the point where what he does interferes with the equal rights of others in the community to manage their affairs -- or up to the point where he begins to injure the welfare of the whole group. It is clear that in modern democratic society a man's freedom in this broader sense is not and cannot be absolute-nor does it exist in a vacuum -- but instead is hedged about by the competing rights of others and the demands of the social welfare. In this context it is government which must referee the clashes which arise among the freedoms of citizens, and protect each citizen in the enjoyment of the maximum freedom to which he is entitled.

There is no essential conflict between freedom and government. Bills of rights restrain government from abridging individual civil liberties, while government itself by sound legislative policies protects citizens against the aggressions of others seeking to push their freedoms too far. Thus in the words of the Declaration of Independence: "Man is endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."

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THE ESSENTIAL RIGHTS

The rights essential to the citizen in a free society can be described in different words and in varying orders. The three great rights of the Declaration of Independence have just been mentioned. Another noble statement is made in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. A more recent formulation is found in the Four Freedoms.

Four basic rights have seemed important to this Committee and have influenced its labors. We believe that each of these rights is essential to the well-being of the individual and to the progress of society.

1. The Right to Safety and Security of the Person

Freedom can exist only where the citizen is assured that his person is secure against bondage, lawless violence, and arbitrary arrest and punishment. Freedom from slavery in all its forms is clearly necessary if all men are to have equal opportunity to use their talents and to lead worthwhile lives. Moreover, to be free, men must be subject to discipline by society only for commission of offenses clearly defined by law and only after trial by due process of law. Where the administration of justice is discriminatory, no man can be sure of security. Where the threat of violence by private persons or mobs exists, a cruel inhibition of the sense of freedom of activity and security of the person inevitably results. Where a society permits private and arbitrary violence to be done to its members, its own integrity is inevitably corrupted. It cannot permit human beings to be imprisoned or killed in the absence of due process of law without degrading its entire fabric.

2. The Right to Citizenship and its Privileges

Since it is a purpose of government in a democracy to regulate the activity of each man in the interest of all men, it follows that every mature and responsible person must be able to enjoy full citizenship and have an equal voice in his government. Because the right to participate in the political process is customarily limited to citizens there can be no denial of access to citizenship based upon race, color, creed,

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or national origin. Denial of citizenship for these reasons cheapens the personality of those who are confined to this inferior status and endangers the whole concept of a democratic society.

To deny qualified citizens the right to vote while others exercise it is to do violence to the principle of freedom and equality. Without the right to vote, the individual loses his voice in the group effort and is subjected to rule by a body from which he has been excluded. Likewise, the right of the individual to vote is important to the group itself. Democracy assumes that the majority is more likely as a general rule to make decisions which are wise and desirable from the point of view of the interests of the whole society than is any minority. Every time a qualified person is denied a voice in public affairs, one of the components of a potential majority is lost, and the formation of a sound public policy is endangered.

To the citizen in a democracy, freedom is a precious possession. Accordingly, all able-bodied citizens must enjoy the right to serve the nation and the cause of freedom in time of war. Any attempt to curb the right to fight in its defense can only lead the citizen to question the worth of the society in which he lives. A sense of frustration is created which is wholly alien to the normal emotions of a free man. In particular, any discrimination which, while imposing an obligation, prevents members of minority groups from rendering full military service in defense of their country is for them a peculiarly humiliating badge of inferiority. The nation also suffers a loss of manpower and is unable to marshal maximum strength at a moment when such strength is most needed.

3. The Right to Freedom of Conscience and Expression

In a free society there is faith in the ability of the people to make sound, rational judgments. But such judgments are possible only where the people have access to all relevant facts and to all prevailing interpretations of the facts. How can such judgments be formed on a sound basis if arguments, viewpoints, or opinions are arbitrarily suppressed? How can the concept of the marketplace of thought in which truth ultimately prevails retain its validity if the thought of certain

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individuals is denied the right of circulation? The Committee reaffirms our tradition that freedom of expression may be curbed by law only where the danger to the well-being of society is clear and present.

Our forefathers fought bloody wars and suffered torture and death for the right to worship God according to the varied dictates of conscience. Complete religious liberty has been accepted as an unquestioned personal freedom since our Bill of Rights was adopted. We have insisted only that religious freedom may not be pleaded as an excuse for criminal or clearly anti-social conduct.

4.The Right to Equality of Opportunity

It is not enough that full and equal membership in society entitles the individual to an equal voice in the control of his government; it must also give him the right to enjoy the benefits of society and to contribute to its progress. The opportunity of each individual to obtain useful employment, and to have access to services in the fields of education, housing, health, recreation and transportation, whether available free or at a price, must be provided with complete disregard for race, color, creed, and national origin. Without this equality of opportunity the individual is deprived of the chance to develop his potentialities and to share the fruits of society. The group also suffers through the loss of the contributions which might have been made by persons excluded from the main channels of social and economic activity.

THE HERITAGE AND THE REALITY

Our American heritage of freedom and equality has given us prestige among the nations of the world and a strong feeling of national pride at home. There is much reason for that pride. But pride is no substitute for steady and honest performance, and the record shows that at varying times in American history the gulf between ideals and practice has been wide. We have had human slavery. We have had religious persecution. We have had mob rule. We still have their ideological remnants in the unwarrantable "pride and prejudice"

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of some of our people and practices. From our work as a Committee, we have learned much that has shocked us, and much that has made us feel ashamed. But we have seen nothing to shake our conviction that the civil rights of the American people -- all of them -- can be strengthened quickly and effectively by the normal processes of democratic, constitutional government. That strengthening, we believe, will make our daily life more and more consonant with the spirit of the American heritage of freedom. But it will require as much courage, as much imagination, as much perseverance as anything which we have ever done together. The members of this Committee reaffirm their faith in the American heritage and in its promise.

Go to Chapter II

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