AUGUST 11, 1960
NEW YORK—I cannot say that I was not disappointed with the Senate procedure that postponed to the next session any action on a civil rights bill.
The Republican bill that was defeated was a limited one, replacing two sections that were not passed when Congress was last in session. One section would have made the President's Committee on Government Contracts, a permanent agency. This committee, headed by Vice-President Richard Nixon, has done a very good job on elimination of discrimination in work done under government contracts. The other section would have allowed Federal grants to school districts seeking to desegregate.
Both of these points would have been good to have in civil rights legislation, but perhaps they are not absolutely vital and affect Republican interest more than Democratic interests. But every step forward in the area of civil rights seems important to me, and I do not like to see politics played with an issue of this kind.
Of course, I can see that a good argument can be made for not passing piecemeal legislation of this kind, but rather waiting to put before the new Congress a comprehensive bill. But I wish I had more confidence that in the new Congress there would be no alliance between Southern Democrats and reactionary Northern Republicans to prevent any real action.
By that time, however, the candidates of both parties will have made a great many promises, and I would suggest that the people interested in effective civil rights legislation see to it that the candidates commit themselves on the essentials for such legislation.
News of the changed attitude of the province of Katanga in the Congo was encouraging, for it seems to make the situation in Africa more hopeful. My respect for the Secretary General of the United Nations and thankfulness for the establishment of the U.N. grows day by day as this problem slowly comes nearer to peaceful solutions.
There is only one place in New York City where nonregistered voters can take their literacy tests, and this is in the main office of the Board of Education in Brooklyn. What about the people who live in the Bronx or in Nassau County? This is a long trip for them. It means a day taken from their work, with loss of pay plus an expensive journey.
This points up for me the fact that there has never been a great deal of interest on the part of the regular New York organization in full registration and greater participation in voting.
There should be mobile units, well publicized beforehand, going to different parts of the city for the purpose of giving literacy tests. It is bad enough that some of our citizens have to overcome a language difficulty, yet the present system makes it even more difficult for them to vote. It seems to me that the Spanish-speaking people—and, for that matter, any large group that has not mastered the English language—should be permitted to take a literacy test in their own language.
California has seen fit to send around mobile units to give literacy tests and register voters, but we, of course, are too backward to follow suit. I am ashamed to say that by forcing people to go to the Board of Education office in Brooklyn to take these tests we are setting our standards along the line of those of some of our Southern states. They find ways to keep people from registering and we seem to be doing the same thing. Shame on us!