For my write-up today on Dean Kotlowski’s Nixon’s Civil Rights, I will use as my starting point something that Kotlowski says on page 37:
“A confluence of presidential leadership, federal persuasion, Supreme Court rulings, Justice Department lawsuits, and the threat of HEW denying holdout districts federal aid broke white southern resistance. Out of a total school population of 3 million, only 186,000 African American children attended desegregated schools in the South prior to 1969. During autumn 1969, after the Nixon administration began to desegregate schools via litigation, 600,000 southern blacks entered desegregated schools. Justice Department lawsuits compelled recalcitrant districts to implement desegregation plans that they had previously drawn up but refused to carry out. In 1970, after the Alexander decision, 2 million more African Americans were attending desegregated schools. In this sense, Nixon was the greatest school desegregator in American history.”
The Nixon administration took people to court to enforce desegregation, and that surprised and angered some Southern whites. But Nixon also reached out to Southern whites and involved them in the process, as well as courted Southern white conservatives in the Congress. Nixon was serious about school desegregation, both before and after the Supreme Court’s October 29, 1969 decision of Alexander v. Holmes County, but he tried to accomplish it through persuasion, not just coercion. Moreover, according to Kotlowski, Nixon had a policy of taking on de jure segregation, the legally-mandated kind that existed in the South, while he chose to ignore de facto segregation and opposed mixed busing to achieve integration.
What interested me was the role of Pat Buchanan in the Nixon White House at this time. The way that Kotlowski presents it on pages 31-32, Pat Buchanan was not exactly a voice for desegregation in the Nixon White House. After the Alexander decision required southern schools to “terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools”, Buchanan told Nixon: “The era of Re-Construction is over; the ship of Integration is going down; it is not our ship…we ought not to be aboard.” Nixon told John Ehrlichman that there was “no good pol[itics] in P[at] B[uchanan]’s extreme view: seg[regation] forever” because it was “bad law”. I find it ironic, therefore, that Pat Buchanan appeals to Nixon’s positive Civil Rights record on MSNBC and in print (see here), for, at least on the issue of school desegregation in the South, he was encouraging Nixon to go the opposite direction! In addition, according to Kotlowski, George Bush, Sr. also had issues with Nixon’s desegregation policies, for they were making Bush’s Senate campaign against Lloyd Bentsen much more difficult.