The American Jewish Congress
After World War II, social scientists took a new view toward the effect legal changes in the social system could have on racial attitudes. In An American Dilemma, Gunnar Myrdal argued that American social scientists had been too concerned that the law was powerless to affect social change, a view he laid at the feet of sociologist William Graham Sumner. According to Myrdal, Sumner had argued that the “mores” and “folkways” of a society, particularly in the area of race relations, could not be changed by legal methods. The notion of “Sumnerian mores,” Myrdal wrote, was “closely related to a bias in social science against induced changes, and especially against all attempts to intervene in the social process by legislation. The concept of mores actually implies a whole social theory and an entire laissez-faire (‘do-nothing’) metaphysics and is so utilized.1
Myrdal flatly rejected the notion that race relations could not be improved through legal change, and many postwar social scientists began to adopt his stance—that the law could and should be used to improve race relations. Fundamental to their position was the idea that legal change could precede social change. The first step to better race relations, according to these social scientists, was not to use propaganda to educate the white public about the “brotherhood of man” and to urge them to accept African Americans as equals. Rather, the first step was to eliminate legal segregation and discrimination, for the legal change would itself serve the educational purpose and lead to better race relations.
This view the power of legal change to improve race relations cut against much of postwar thinking about race. While it was true that, after the war was won, many Americans turned their attention to the elimination of racism and prejudice at home, most organizations believed the way to accomplish this task was to focus on education and moral exhortation.2
Hundreds of organizations sprang to life after the war to improve race relations in the United States. The focus of many of these organizations