How significant was Dwight D Eisenhower in improving civil rights for African Americans during his presidency (1953-1961)? Eisenhower was both partially significant and not, regarding improving civil rights during his presidency. Reason being, Ike was criticized for a variety of decisions he made. Arthur Larson emphasised that he had a “failure to speak out”. However, David Greenberg believed Eisenhower was significant and stated that it “was his judicial nominees who made the revolution possible”.
Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States (1953-1961) and presided during key moments xin the civil rights movements including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Brown v Board act, The Little Rock 9 and the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
He was a republican and believed that each state should have their own laws and cases shouldn’t have to be dealt with by the president. These events lead to many historians and people to question whether Eisenhower was effectively managing the cases and how significant he was to change in Civil Rights for African Americans.
Although Eisenhower’s significance was strongly opposed by many, he clearly played a huge part in improving civil rights for African Americans. The judgement of the Brown v Board case was really significant in improving civil rights for African Americans. Eisenhower’s appointment of Earl Warren as Chief Justice of Supreme Court was really significant. Earl Warren was pro civil rights and desegregation and stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. This statement was due to the fact that blacks weren’t being given the same opportunities as white children at school.
He knew they had the same potential but weren’t provided with mutual resources. This was in favour Oliver Brown’s case and the Supreme Court was in favour of equality in both races. This progress meant that Eisenhower made huge significance towards improving Civil Rights as it was him who appointed Earl Warren and this wasn’t the first time that there were equal opportunities for black children in school. However, Ike described appointing Earl Warren as “The biggest mistake I ever made”. This suggests that he wasn’t happy about the outcome of the case and that he had conflicting ideas in comparison to Earl, regarding the Civil Rights.
This signifies that Eisenhower was disappointed that the case had finished at a quick pace and didn’t like the changes that actually happened. Although he said he regretted it, he still did an extremely significant thing by employing Earl Warren as it helped improve Civil Rights. Going back to a previous quote, Smith stated that his “judicial nominees who made the revolution possible”. In this case, Smith is obviously referring to Eisenhower’s appointment of the judge Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Earl Warren was an extremely respected man and was given a big role in being responsible to fight for Oliver Brown’s case. This reinforces the fact that Eisenhower’s employment of Earl Warren was a major factor in improving Civil Rights. Another key event that was important throughout Eisenhower’s presidency was the intervention at Little Rock. Eisenhower stated that the “mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts” which was encouraging as it meant that he wouldn’t allow African American’s to be threatened in school, a place where people should learn and feel safe, not terrified.
This was hugely significant as it proved that Eisenhower was determined to desegregate schools and have a positive change for African Americans. Eisenhower also stated that “leniency can encourage defiance”. This also showed that Eisenhower was motivated to lure everyone into changing their racist ways as he demanded everyone to stay strong. This shows improvement to Eisenhower’s attitude. This is significant as, since he was the President, the fact he said this would have encouraged everyone to be brave and fight discrimination.
However, Eisenhower confronted that “our enemies gloated over this incident” which shows that Eisenhower only acted due to the fact of the Cold War and he didn’t want other Countries to see America in a negative perspective. This shows that Eisenhower didn’t act from free will, he was concerned about other people’s views and so reacted. Overall, in regards to the intervention at Little Rock, Eisenhower was extremely effective. On the other hand, Eisenhower also acted in ways that weren’t significant in improving Civil Rights for African Americans.
In key events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Sit-ins and Freedom Rides he didn’t act at all however in Little Rock 9 he was forced to act due to the opinions of other countries and people regarding America which was shown when he stated “our enemies are gloating over this incident” as he intervened due to other’s opinions. He also had the opinion that “there is a state law on boycotts”. This shows that he was a republican and believed all cases should be dealt with by the government, not the president. This links with the fact that Eisenhower was quite laid back as he believed it wasn’t his
responsibility to deal with problems. James Farmer stated “we planned the freedom rides with the intention of creating a crisis” which shows they wanted to provoke a reaction from Eisenhower. This did alert Eisenhower, however, because of his laid back attitude he didn’t intervene which caused a delay in the improvement of civil rights, showing he wasn’t significant. Eisenhower wasn’t significant because of his personal beliefs. He privately stated that “making people do things by force is plain nuts”. This shows how Eisenhower had an attitude that people should do what they want without people interfering.
This shows that Eisenhower wasn’t significant because if he had used his power as president correctly he could have made a big difference. This is seen in the quote by the historian David Greenberg the “Fight for civil rights… demanded the use of the bully pulpit” which shows that historians consider his failure to intervene to have been a massive set back to the civil rights movement. Historian Roy Wilkins said “if he fought the Second World War like he fights for civil rights, we would all be speaking German right now”.
This shows that Eisenhower is not the best person to have in a position of authority. This clearly states that he didn’t put in much effort regarding fighting for civil rights. Showing he wasn’t a good leader and so is insignificant. To conclude, after analysing a range of sources, both negative and positive, we can see that Eisenhower was significant in improving the lives of African Americans during his presidency. He presided over key events, most importantly, the appointment of Earl Warren and The Little Rock 9.
Although, some may say he only acted due to pressure from other countries, this does not change the fact that he played a huge part in improving civil rights for African Americans. Under the presidency of Eisenhower things did change, no matter if he was forced to do it or not, he still helped improve Civil Rights for African Americans which is all that matters. As Roy Wilkins stated, “if he fought the second World War like he fights for civil rights, we would be speaking German right now” which shows he didn’t put in much effort in improving Civil Rights for African Americans.