I have three items for my reading today of Dean Kotlowski’s Nixon’s Civil Rights: Politics, Principle, and Policy:
1. On pages 24-25, Kotlowski goes into some of the roots of Richard Nixon’s concern about civil rights. Nixon believed in educational opportunities for people in lower-income brackets, for education played a key role in his own advancement. Nixon as Vice-President said that segregation “impeded education and wasted talent” (Kotlowski’s words). Nixon’s patriotism also was a factor behind his attitude on the civil rights issue, for he believed that freedom and opportunity for all was the “reason for America’s greatness”, plus he did not accept Hitler’s division of the world into a master race and inferior races (but there were also times when Nixon expressed disbelief that all were equal).
2. I talked yesterday about freedom of choice plans, which Kotlowski says were a means for the South to delay desegregation. Nixon told southern Senator Strom Thurmond that he supported these plans, as long as they resulted in desegregated schools. In my reading today, Kotlowski goes into more detail about what the freedom of choice plans actually were. In the 1960’s, federal courts and the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare permitted these plans to facilitate desegregation. But Kotlowski states that “such plans rarely yielded anything beyond token integration, since black parents wanted to send their children to better-financed white schools while white parents refused to enroll their offspring in underfunded black schools” (page 27). The result was “heel-dragging”, so the Supreme Court in its 1968 decision, Green vs. New Kent County, ruled that freedom-of-choice plans were unacceptable and that a Virginia district had to come up with a real plan to desegregate. Kotlowski states that the decision did not strike down all freedom-of-choice plans, but it did shift the “onus of desegregation from blacks to school boards” (page 27). It was no longer the responsibility of African-American parents to send their kids to white schools to achieve integration, for the school boards themselves had to bring about desegregation.
I wish that Kotlowski had gone into more detail on this issue, for I am unclear about why exactly the freedom-of-choice plans did not work and resulted in heel-dragging, if African-Americans could send their kids to white schools. Perhaps there were a variety of reasons: that African-Americans had to ensure their kids’ transportation to those better-funded white schools, when it would have been more convenient for all schools (especially ones closer to them) to be well-funded and integrated; overcrowding may have discouraged African-American parents from sending their kids to white schools, as well as discouraged white school officials from expediting and encouraging their enrollment (not that many of the white officials wanted African-American kids in the white schools, in the first place); etc.
3. On page 26, Kotlowski says that Douglass Cater, an education staffer for Lyndon Johnson, had a problem with the idea of cutting off federal dollars to segregated schools: it could hurt African-American children, not just white kids, presumably because the African-American kids went to schools that were segregated—-all black schools. Nixon supported cutting off funds to segregated schools in 1952, and Bruce Bartlett documents that he did so as President with five Southern school districts (see here). But there were times when Nixon thought that cutting off federal funds was a bad idea. On page 29, Kotlowski quotes Nixon as saying: “When funds [are] cut off, [the] law has failed. [You have] neither integration [n]or education.”