MARCH 4, 1957
NEW YORK—An article I read the other day took the liberals of the United States to task for their lack of fighting spirit and clarity.
The writer felt there are only two really important causes for which liberals should fight. One is peace of the world and the other is freedom of thought and expression. He contended that modern liberals lack courage and that there are none who can stand up with George Norris and Bob La Follette and other giants of liberalism of the old days.
I would agree, I think, that concentration on one or two important points of policy and fighting for them is better than a scattering of strength. But I also think we live in more complicated times which make it more difficult to speak out clearly than was the case 50 years ago.
One step seems to have been taken in getting a civil rights bill through Congress, and this the liberals should support, even though it may not provide an opportunity to deal with one fundamental difficulty which I will dwell on later.
The bill provides for the appointment of an assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice in charge of civil rights. It would give to the Federal government new enforcement powers to prosecute anyone who intimidates or coerces a voter in an election where a Federal office is at stake.
In addition, the Department of Justice could institute civil damage suits and seek Federal court injunctions against violations of voting and other guarantees.
It is here where the difficulty I mentioned comes up. I wonder if this provision would cover the situation in certain states where the state government makes voter registration practically impossible for Negro citizens by laying down certain rules that must be complied with before a voter can register.
The bill goes on to say that citizens would be able to take denial-of-rights complaints directly to the Federal courts, and I suppose this provision might be used where state laws evidently are framed to deny citizens the vote.
Some changes were made in the bill to make it more palatable to Southerners, but on the whole it went through the House Judiciary subcommittee in a form which satisfied its sponsors.
If it succeeds in passing the full committees of both House and Senate, where hearings on the bill will end tomorrow (Tuesday), we will turn our attention to the Senate, where the real civil rights fight will begin.