In his State of the Union address before both the Houses of Congress, the President said this:
I should say here that we have much reason to be proud of the progress our people are making in mutual understanding--the chief buttress of human and civil rights. Steadily we are moving closer to the goal of fair and equal treatment of citizens without regard to race or color. But unhappily much remains to be done.
Last year the Administration recommended to the Congress a four-point program to reinforce civil rights. That program included:
(1) creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate asserted violations of civil rights and to make recommendations;
(2) creation of a civil rights division in the Department of Justice in charge of an Assistant Attorney General;
(3) enactment by the Congress of new laws to aid in the enforcement of voting rights; and
(4) amendment of the laws so as to permit the Federal Government to seek from the civil courts preventive relief in civil rights cases.
I urge that the Congress enact this legislation.
Later that year Congress passed and the President signed the first federal Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. Name that President.
The inspiration for today's quiz comes from a Frank Rich column which asks, "Who Killed the Disneyland Dream?" The question was brought on when Rich read the obituary of a Wethersfield, Connecticut man, Robbins Barstow. Barstow made home movies, one of which chronicled a family trip to Disneyland in 1956. He called it "Disneyland Dream."
“Disneyland Dream” was made in the summer of 1956, shortly before the dawn of the Kennedy era. You can watch it on line at archive.org or on YouTube. Its narrative is simple. The young Barstow family of Wethersfield, Conn. — Robbins; his wife, Meg; and their three children aged 4 to 11 — enter a nationwide contest to win a free trip to Disneyland, then just a year old. The contest was sponsored by 3M, which asked contestants to submit imaginative encomiums to the wonders of its signature product. Danny, the 4-year-old, comes up with the winning testimonial, emblazoned on poster board: “I like ‘Scotch’ brand cellophane tape because when some things tear then I can just use it.”
Ah, the Kennedy era. Camelot. The dawn. "Disneyland Dream" was made before the dawn. In the progressive mind of Frank Rich, that makes its message of hope and optimism hopelessly naive. The 50s were a time of economic growth and general prosperity, but Rich can only see injustices -- injustices that he disingenuously implies would not be confronted until John F. Kennedy swept into the White House.
Many of America’s more sweeping changes since 1956 are for the better. You can’t spot a nonwhite face among the family’s neighbors back home or at Disneyland. Indeed, according to Neal Gabler’s epic biography of Disney, civil rights activists were still pressuring the park to hire black employees as late as 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington and Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” started upending the Wonder Bread homogeneity that suffuses the America of “Disneyland Dream.”
But, for all those inequities, economic equality seemed within reach in 1956, at least for the vast middle class. (Michael Harrington’s exposé of American poverty, “The Other America,” would not rock this complacency until 1962.) The sense that the American promise of social and economic mobility was attainable to anyone who sought it permeates “Disneyland Dream” from start to finish.
Poor Mr. Rich. Economic equality was not, and did not seem, within reach in 1956, because in 1956 people didn't think in those terms. So many Connecticut school children of 1956 shared a similar family history. It began with grandparents or great grandparents who came through Ellis Island. The men and women who left "the old country" bound for America and the hope of a better life, arrived with no expectations of economic equality. They came on the assurances of friends and relatives who came before them that there was opportunity.
So John J. Bowler of County Kerry, Ireland came to America in 1900 and worked nights at the mill in Unionville, Connecticut so that John J. Bowler of Unionville, Connecticut could attend Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Opportunity, not economic equality. That was what drove the immigrant waves to our shores. But a funny thing happened on the way to the American dream. It's as if progressives started a war against opportunity. Equality of opportunity is no longer enough. It has been supplanted by a liberal focus on equality of outcome. It should come as no surprise that the policies necessary to guarantee equality of outcome inevitably limit opportunity.
We knew that in the 50s. In fact, if you thought government should be in the business of ensuring income equality you would be considered un-American. America was the land of opportunity, and the 50s were a time incredible prosperity and upward mobility. More women graduated from college during the 50s than at any time in history. The Civil Rights movement began in the 50s.
Rich ignores all that. Rich is, above all, a partisan Democrat, and the 50s were a Republican decade. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected in 1952 and remained in office until 1960. In that time there were several firsts in the area of Civil Rights. As noted above, Eisenhower signed the first Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction. Among the others were:
- Eisenhower implemented the integration of the U.S. military forces. Although President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 (1948) to desegregate the military services, his administration had limited success in realizing it. As a life-long soldier, Dwight Eisenhower knew intimately the reality of racial intolerance in the military. As president, he commanded compliance from subordinates and was able to overcome the deeply rooted racial institutions in the military establishment. By October 30, 1954, the last racially segregated unit in the armed forces had been abolished, and all federally controlled schools for military dependent children had been desegregated.
- Eisenhower sent elements of the 101st Airborne Division to carry out the mandate of the U.S. Supreme Court, when Orval Faubus of Arkansas openly defied a federal court order to integrate Little Rock Central High, an all-white high school. This act, the first time since Reconstruction that federal troops were deployed to a former Confederate state, was condemned by many at the time, but it established that southern states could not use force to defeat the Constitution.
- Eisenhower was the first president to elevate an African-American to an executive level position in the White House. In July 1955, President Eisenhower appointed E. Frederic Morrow, a graduate of Bowdoin College and the Rutgers University Law School, as Administrative Officer for Special Projects.
- Eisenhower worked to achieve full integration in the nation’s capital from his first day in office until the end of his administration. The President approached this task from several different angles. He appointed pro-desegregation district government officials and directed the Justice Department to argue in favor of desegregation in the Supreme Court. One of the results of judicial actions he instigated was the Supreme Court’s Thompson decision which desegregated Washington restaurants. He personally cajoled, persuaded, and pressured local government administrators, motion picture moguls, and business men in meetings at the White House. By the time Eisenhower left Washington, the Capital of the United States was transformed from an entirely segregated to an almost fully integrated city.
- Eisenhower established the first comprehensive regulations prohibiting racial discrimination in the federal workforce. He established presidential committees that set standards and pressured governments agencies and businesses with government contracts to end racial discrimination in employment.
It should also be noted that segregation of the federal Civil Service was accomplished by progressive hero of the left, Woodrow Wilson. A Democrat. Here is an excerpt from an open letter to President Wilson from W.E.B. Dubois.
Sir, you have now been President of the United States for six months and what is the result? It is no exaggeration to say that every enemy of the Negro race is greatly encouraged; that every man who dreams of making the Negro race a group of menials and pariahs is alert and hopeful. Vardaman, Tillman, Hoke Smith, Cole Blease, and Burleson are evidently assuming that their theory of the place and destiny of the Negro race is the theory of your administration, They and others are assuming this because not a single act and not a single word of yours since election has given anyone reason to infer that that you have the slightest interest in the colored people or desire to alleviate their intolerable position, A dozen worthy Negro officials have been removed from office, and you have nominated but on black man for office, and he such a contemptible cur, that his very nomination was an insult to every Negro in the land.
To this negative appearance of indifference has been added positive action on the part of your advisers, with or without your knowledge, which constitutes the gravest attack on the liberties of our people since emancipation, Public segregation of civil servants in government employ, necessarily involving personal insult and humiliation, has for the first time in history been made the policy of the United States government.
It was Eisenhower who finally undid the injustice that Woodrow Wilson imposed upon the black race. But don't expect Frank Rich to notice. Like most progressive journalists, Rich has no interest in real injustice or real inequality. These are issues he uses for promoting his ideological preferences, along with Democratic party influence. Nothing more.
So who really killed the Disneyland Dream? If anybody did, it would be Lyndon Johnson with his War on Poverty. I happen to think the dream is still alive, though. Barely.