Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

judges Eisenhower appointed would enforce the Court's ruling, and that meant an end to legal segregation; but, by the very nature of the legal system, the process would be a gradual one. 39

These appointments shed considerable light on Eisenhower's approach to Brown. Eisenhower could agree in principle with the decision's intent, but he had qualms about the exercise of judicial power it represented and even more serious doubts about the extension of federal power it implied. Moreover, he believed that a court ruling (or compulsory, immediate legislation for that matter) would fail to bring about equality for blacks. Indeed, he worried that such action would create a backlash that would wipe out advances that had already been made. His quarrel, however, remained with the Court's methods, not its intent.


CONCLUSION

Eisenhower response to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in many ways reflects the ideas Eisenhower developed as a boy in Kansas and later at West Point. He had a high school civics class regard for the separation of powers and for the federal system. Yet he also believed in the fundamental equality of all citizens before the law. The boy who threatened to quit a baseball team to win reinstatement for a black teammate grew up to hate discrimination and bigotry. Yet his conception of constitutional government limited his willingness to respond to discrimination as a national issue. Nothing in his background enabled him to project his horror at individual acts of discrimination onto the larger canvas of national policy.


NOTES
1.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace, 1956- 1961 ( New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 148.
2.
Virgil Pinkley, Eisenhower Declassified (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1979), pp. 47-48. Stephen E. Ambrose, in Eisenhower Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 ( New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), tells a different story, but one with a similar gist. A football team from Abilene on which Eisenhower played discovered that the opposition had a black player. None of the players from Abilene would play across the line from the black player, who was the other team's center. Eisenhower declared that he would play center that day, even though he normally played end and had never played center before. He shook hands with the black player both before and after the game (pp. 34-35). Ambrose's source is Bela Kornitzer, The Great American Heritage: The Story ofthe Five Eisenhower Brothers

-66-

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