MARCH 21, 1957
EN ROUTE TO MOROCCO—Congressmen opposed to all Federal aid to education defeated the school construction bill in Congress last year by taking advantage of the Powell amendment, sponsored by Representative Adam Clayton Powell, Democrat of New York, who represents a Harlem district.
The Powell amendment would have denied Federal aid to school districts that had not complied with the Supreme Court decision to integrate their schools.
Those who opposed Federal aid to schools, in principle, supported the amendment and so it went into the bill. But when the bill came up for a final vote, they voted against it together with the Southern Congressmen whom they knew well in advance would not accept a bill containing a mandatory integration provision.
These opponents of Federal aid were aware of the fact that many of their fellow legislators from the South were coming up for reelection shortly and that support of the bill by a Southern Congressman would mean his defeat.
Many of those who voted for the amendment did so because they believed in the principle it set forth, and they followed through on their convictions by supporting it in the final vote.
But their strength was not enough to pass it, for they were stymied by the double-cross that was so apparent that everyone in the country interested in the bill must have known what happened.
Respect is due those Congressmen who felt strongly that it was unfair to pay Federal school funds to states which were doing their best to defeat the purpose of the Supreme Court's integration decision.
It seems to me that this year the school crisis is so great that the harm, both to white and Negro children all over the country, resulting from a shortage of classrooms is apparent to all. Overcrowding and split sessions in schools have had such a bad effect that even those who believe in the principle of the Powell amendment must realize that our first concern is to get school construction under way.
If this is done, then it would be possible to carry the fight for integration in the schools through the courts of the various states.
I hope that Representative Powell will see the inconsistency of his position and refrain from offering an integration amendment to the bill this year. And I hope the bill can be discussed early enough so there will be plenty of chance for it to pass in this session.
I feel, however, that this important legislation will not pass unless the people of the country express their opinions, not merely by talking at home but by organizing groups to go to Washington to see their representatives and by writing personal letters to these representatives telling them of the feeling in their communities.
No representative will vote contrary to what he feels is his community's real nonpartisan attitude on the bill. If he is a Democrat and hears only from Republicans, he might well say that these people wouldn't vote for him anyway, and vice versa.
But if the letters come from both Republicans and Democrats, and if his visitors represent both parties, he will realize that this question of Federal aid to education transcends party lines.