Civil Rights. A subject bubbling under the radar around Capitol Hill for quite some time. In the 1940s, President Truman enacted legislation to integrate the Armed Forces, which were up to that point segregated. In 1948, countless attempts at introducing anti-lynching laws were met with stiff resistance as it had since it was first introduced by Representative Leonidas Dyer in 1918. Those attempts would eventually number 200 before 2005, when any semblance of an apology was officially given.
But in 1957, America was in the midst of something. In 1954 we had a Supreme Court ruling on School desegregation, which would have its first test in September of 1957. We also had the unofficial movements – the 1955 Rosa Parks Bus segregation resistance, and other similar acts of civil disobedience as well as the Montgomery Bus Boycott which became a lasting symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.
So in 1957 there was considerable pressure to enact some kind of Civil Rights legislation on a national level. A Civil Rights Bill had been introduced, and what was following were amendments to that bill before voting on its passage could take place. The most controversial amendment was a Trial-By-Jury addition introduced by Southern Democrats and vigorously opposed by the Eisenhower Administration. The Amendment, authored by Senator Sam Irvin (D-North Carolina), essentially giving a person charged with contemptfor disobeying a judge’s order—say, a white official trying to prevent blacks from voting—the right to a trial by jury (which in the South meant an all-white jury). Many on Capitol Hill this amendment eviscerated the bill, while many in the South were using the amendment to hold the bill for ransom.
This episode of The American Forum from July 9,1957, features the amendment’s author Sam Irvin in favor, and Senator Emmanuel Cellar, who was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, against.
The name and voice of Sam Irvin may sound familiar to some – he was a key figure in the Senate Watergate Investigation committee, some 20 years later.
Here is that episode of American Forum from June 9, 1957.