Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



We have learned in the last two decades important lessons in both the law and the politics of civil rights. I wish to underscore certain of these realities in outlining a civil rights strategy for the decade of the 1970's. We look back at the civil rights battles of the 1950's and 1960's with an air of nostalgia. In those years the legislative goals were relatively well defined: the removal of a host of legal barriers t, civil equality and equal opportunity. More than this, the legal barriers existed primarily in one section of the country so that the lives of most Americans would be unaffected by whatever reforms we might achieve in Congress. We were, in a sense, working with a civil rights agenda that was uniquely suited to legislative remedy.We now look back on those times as the easy days of the civil rights struggle. But if we think a moment longer, these days were not so easy.In the early 1950's, the number of United States Senators who were actively committed to passing the pending civil rights legislation could caucus in the rear corner of the Senate cloakroom. And I have the distinct impression that the Senate establishment of those years was decidedly unenthusiastic about these bills. One might even say down-right hostile. Those were years of unrelieved frustration and failure, until Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson decided that we could postpone no longer the most urgent portions of the pending legislation. In what still must be regarded as one of the Senate's most amazing demonstrations of parliamentary skill, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 became law when Lyndon Johnson maneuvered the legislation through the Senate without a filibuster.