Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman

By Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

4
Regardless of Station, Race, or Calling: Eisenhower and Race

Michael S. Mayer

For many years, historians and the general public alike assumed that Dwight Eisenhower was an ineffective President who had relatively little to do with running the country during the era to which he gave his name. By the late 1960s, in the wake of the tragedy of the American involvement in Indochina, young radical historians grew disillusioned with liberal Democrats and with policies that resulted in the war in Vietnam and riots in America's cities. In their search for alternatives, some discovered Eisenhower, a military man who, as President, ended one war and did not begin another. In the early 1970s, new material in the Eisenhower Library became available to researchers. Renewed interest combined with access to materials, and a new picture of the thirty-fourth President began to emerge. Rather than a doddering caretaker, he appeared to have been a capable, astute politician, but a far more conservative one than most people had imagined. That assessment extended to his record on civil rights and especially to his personal attitudes on racial issues.

In the mid- 1970s, however, enormous collections of documents were opened up to researchers. The papers of James Hagerty, Eisenhower's capable Press Secretary, and the so-called Ann Whitman File, which contains Eisenhower's papers as President, were made available for research. From these rich files, yet another picture of Eisenhower emerged. The newly available material reinforced the conception that Eisenhower was a highly capable and articulate man, but forced historians of the period to reevaluate their conclusion that he was a rock-ribbed conservative. This is especially true in the area of civil rights. This chapter evaluates Eisenhower's personal attitudes on the question of race in light of the evidence now available.

In his memoirs, Eisenhower recalled that "since boyhood I had accepted without qualification the right to equality before the law of all citizens of this

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