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Metcalf and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (redirected from Civil Rights Act of 1964)

Page history last edited by Jeff Malcomson 8 years, 6 months ago

Rep. Lee Metcalf meets with Senate Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate during a meal in August 1960 prior to the fall 1960 state and national elections. Pictured are (left to right) 1960 Democratic presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy; Senator Henry M. Jackson, National Democratic Party Chairman; Metcalf; Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson; and Senate Assistant Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, August 1960 (U.S. Senate Democratic Photograph Studio photograph).  Lot 31 B16/1.01

 


 

 

By Matthew M. Peek

Montana Historical Society Metcalf CLIR Project Photograph Archivist

June 2014

 

Civil Rights Act of 1964

 

June 19, 2014, marked the 50th anniversary of the passage by the U.S. Senate of what became Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241)—the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act outlawed in the United States discrimination in employment practices and public places, and hastened desegregation of public schools. Racial strife and protests in America saw their peak in 1963, particularly with the dramatic Birmingham Church bombings in September 1963. The U.S. Senate, under the leadership of Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT), could no longer stall action on a civil rights bill (H.R. 7152), which the U.S. House of Representatives had passed on February 10, 1964. The U.S. Senate took up the House bill on February 26, 1964, and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield placed it directly on the Senate calendar, rather than refer it to a committee chaired by a civil rights opponent. The move would allow Mansfield to call the bill up on the Senate floor for debate at any time, limiting the effective resistance of Southern senators in stopping the measure. The move was objected to by the bill’s opposition leader Sen. Richard B. Russell (D-GA), who stated that “Senate rules require bills to go to committee” [1]. The objection was overruled by the Senate’s presiding officer, Sen. Lee Metcalf of Montana. Russell appealed, resulting in a test vote—which Mansfield eventually was able to stop by tabling the appeal. The single ruling by Metcalf cleared the way for the bill to the Senate for debate, keeping the bill’s future alive.

 

The 53-year old junior U.S. Senator from Montana, Lee Metcalf had been selected in June 1963 by Mansfield to serve as the Acting President Pro Tempore, the presiding officer of the Senate. Mansfield saw that the only way to defeat Southern senators in their filibustering efforts of the civil rights bill was to outmaneuver them in their specialty—knowledge and use of the Senate’s parliamentary procedure. Mansfield chose Metcalf, a man he trusted implicitly and who had such knowledge as a former Montana Supreme Court justice. Metcalf replaced the Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Carl Hayden (D-AR), who by June 1963 was 85 years old—believed to be too fragile to preside over a demanding Senate floor debate such as that with civil rights. Metcalf carried an air of authority, with a booming voice and presence to match, that few senators could ignore [2]. He met the exact needs of the pro-civil rights Senate leadership.

 

Metcalf’s friend, colleague, and the leader of the pro-civil rights effort, Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN), had agreed with Mansfield over Metcalf’s selection as Senate presiding officer. Humphrey would say that Metcalf was a “key figure in the present [civil rights bill] struggle” [3]. A reporter covering Metcalf specifically in April 1964 mentioned that “Metcalf is always in the chair for the important rulings and the infrequent votes on the bill” [4]. Still, he was not the only presiding officer during the debate. Senators Humphrey and Mansfield had planned to have a rotating set of presiding officers of their choosing sit in the chair, relieving each other during the long periods of civil rights debate. They were called “Humphrey’s Big Four”, and included Sen. Daniel J. Brewster (D-MD); Sen. Thomas J. McIntyre (D-NH); and Sen. Gaylord Nelson (D-WI). However, Metcalf would preside over all of the important Senate votes and floor debate on the Civil Rights Act in the spring of 1964 [5].

 

Metcalf reflected to a constituent on November 19, 1963, regarding the civil rights legislation before the U.S. Congress and his role with the related measures:

 

“I am pleased to note that you are in agreement with me that racial discrimination must be eliminated. Concerning the progress of this legislation, appropriate committees both in the Senate and the House of Representatives have been considering a number of civil rights bills. The Senate Commerce Committee has ordered reported S. 1732, a bill which I am co-sponsoring, regarding the public accommodations section of the civil   rights program. Congressional action has been completed on H.R. 3369, extending for one year the Civil Rights Commission. Most recently H.R. 7152, the Civil Rights Act, has been ordered favorably reported to the House as amended. You may be sure that I will do all I can to assure the passage of civil rights legislation” [6].

 

Lee Metcalf believed his service as presiding officer was “. . . ‘my contribution to the filibuster’” [7]. A supporter of civil rights, he was one of the strongest liberals in the Senate. He despised racism and its inequalities. In a February 15, 1964, letter to Edwin S. Graf of Stevensville, Montana, Metcalf stated:

 

“The Civil Rights Bill is a complicated and voluminous bill, passed by a substantial majority in the House of Representatives after one of the longest debates in history. As I see it, it simply tries to give our colored citizens the same opportunity to vote, for their children to attend decent schools, and opportunity to have available public accomadations—rights the Anglo-Saxon people have had since the establishment of English Common Law. . . . I do not hold myself out to be an expert on the Civil Rights Bill. I am going to participate in the debate, listen carefully and try to analyze and read the material that is presented. . . . I do know that if I were a Negro and treated as I can see Negroes are treated here in Washington, D.C., I would be protesting, I would be marching, and I would be sitting in, too” [8].

 

In 1968, Metcalf shared his view on racism to a constituent, after hearing Robert F. Kennedy’s announcement in the U.S. Senate about the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Man’s inhumanity to man cuts across all nations and races. I would like to see us eradicate not only racial injustice but the injustices that breed racial injustice” [9].

 

Hating unfair employment practices, Metcalf hated racial discrimination limiting African Americans and Native Americans, as it continued a cycle of poverty, limited educational opportunities, and little-to-no ability to sustain one’s family:

 

“Of all the forms of discrimination against which the Civil Rights Bill is directed, none is more widespread and none more harmful to the Negro and to the nation as a whole than discrimination in employment. Denial to the Negro of the right to be gainfully employed shuts off to him most prospects of economic advancement. The right to be served in places of public accommodation is meaningless to the man who has no money. The opportunity for education in an integrated school or college is lost on a child who knows that, whatever his education, he is condemned to a life of unskilled and menial labor punctuated by periods of employment. If there is any single point at which the vicious circle which discrimination has drawn around the Negro must be broken, it is in the field of employment” [10].

 

It was his hope that the Civil Rights Act would be the starting point to remedy these problems.

 

In 1964, Montana was mixed on its views of the pending civil rights legislation. Montana only had a population of 1,467 African Americans. The state would seem to have little reason to worry about what was considered by a number of Montanans as a “Southern” problem. Metcalf received letters from business owners complaining that the federal government had no right to tell them who they could or could not serve as customers. Montanans seemed in large part to think the Civil Rights Act was a bill dealing with only black Americans; but Metcalf held a much different view. He fought to give Montana’s 21,181 Native Americans more rights than what they would have in the pending civil rights legislation. This was unpopular with many of his constituency, and received little support from his fellow senators. His fight for Indian civil rights, as it was called then, would take until 1968 to be passed as the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, which he wrote and had also attempted to get passed in 1966.

 

During the civil rights bill debate, Metcalf addressed the purpose and need of the civil rights legislation in a radio address to Montanans:

 

“One criticism of the legislation [civil rights bill] is that it favors the few over the many. It is argued that by giving minorities in the United States increased civil rights, you restrict the freedom of the majority. In effect, these opponents of civil rights legislation argue that if a man wishes to be prejudiced, arbitrary, or even bigoted, that is his own affair. This country defends his right to believe and act as he chooses. And if he and others who share his feelings are in the majority, they have every right to determine public policy. If a Negro is permitted to enter a movie theater, the argument goes, a White man also has the right to privacy—the right to keep the Negro out.

 

But once we accept these propositions, are anyone’s freedoms really safe? Can any majority feel entirely secure in the exercise of their rights when the rights of other citizens are either disregarded or unprotected? The man who is in today’s majority may be in tomorrow’s minority. Racial, religious and nationality groups are not the only minorities in this nation. (All Americans are in one minority or another.) One day we too may find ourselves at the mercy of a hostile majority.

 

We are faced with the problem of agreeing that all citizens have broad liberties and at the same time admitting that their freedoms may frequently conflict. One man’s freedom can be another man’s oppression—just as one group’s rights can be another group’s wrongs. We begin to solve this dilemma when we come to appreciate that the rights of an individual are never absolute. . . . At some point, the actions of one man cease to be entirely his own; they take on a public character. At that point, we say he also has responsibilities to his fellow American.

 

The purpose of the civil rights legislation now under discussion in Washington is to remind the individual American of where his public responsibilities begin" [11].

 

In a follow-up radio address on the civil rights matter to the one quoted above, Senator Metcalf would state that, “Only when a person enters the public world—where all citizens enjoy the same basic rights—is it just to remind him, through laws, of his obligations . . . . To deny admission or to refuse service to a fellow American simply because he has a different color of skin, another religious belief, or a different national origin, would be to ignore a public obligation” [12]

 

Lee Metcalf was bearing a great strain during the civil rights debate, receiving great amounts of constituent correspondence from Montanans and people in other states denouncing the civil rights bill. After receiving one friendly letter, Metcalf responded, exhibiting his plans for the forthcoming cloture vote and his tiredness from the whole debate: “During these days when I have been receiving so much mail in opposition, it is encouraging to hear from you and know that you share my views. I shall vote for cloture, of course, and, as a co-sponsor of this legislation, I shall continue to do everything I can in its behalf” [13].

 

On June 10, 1964, after 75 days of filibustering by anti-civil rights senators, Mansfield forced a vote for cloture, which would limit each senator to speak for only one more hour. Despite efforts by Southern senators to reject the cloture vote, Metcalf overruled them using obscure Senate parliamentary practices that few knew existed but Metcalf. The Senate voted 71-29 in favor of cloture, the first time it was ever invoked on a civil rights bill. Three days later, Metcalf responded to a constituent that “It was my privilege to preside over many hours of the civil rights debate.” He would go on in that same letter to say, “The southern coalition was brilliantly led and the southern Senators made persuasive arguments if listened to without comparing them with the arguments of the other side” [14].

 

A compromise civil rights bill negotiated on the Senate floor was brought to a vote for passage on June 19, 1964, before a packed public gallery. The bill passed 73-27. Those in the gallery burst into applause, against Senate rules. Ever the fair judge, Metcalf called for order to keep emotions in check, until the Senators left the chamber. Montana’s junior senator had controlled the longest debate in the U.S. Senate’s history [15]. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law on July 2, 1964, by President Lyndon B. Johnson in a ceremony on the White House Rose Garden.

 

Lee Metcalf grew quite reflective following the passage of the Civil Rights Acts. He knew adaptation to the Civil Rights Act would be difficult and take time, as he mentioned in a June 30, 1964, letter to one worried businessman: “After the Civil Rights bill is signed there will be a period for adjustment and regulations will be put out. I would suggest that you wait until such regulations are printed and circulated before you take any such steps as converting to a private club. You say that you ‘don’t mind feeding negroes,’ but that has always been the State [of Montana] law” [16].

 

Without the dedication and character of Montana’s two U.S. senators, Mike Mansfield and Lee Metcalf, the Civil Rights Act may not have been passed in the form we know it today.

 

Return to Senator Lee Metcalf (1911-1978)

 

Sources

 

1. “Senate Votes to Put ‘Rights’ Bill on Its Agenda; Spurns Committee,” Racine Journal-Times (Racine, Wisconsin), Thursday, February 27, 1964, pp. 10B.

 

2. McGroy, Mary, Washington Star staff writer, “Vital in Rights Fight: Metcalf Pounds Them Down,” Washington Sunday Star (Washington, D.C.), March 29, 1964.

 

3. Ibid.  

 

4. Ibid.

 

5. Ibid.

 

6. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Reverend Roger Robison, Christ Methodist Church (Great Falls, MT), November 19, 1963, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 489, unknown folder, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

7. McGroy, “Vital in Rights . . . ,” March 29, 1964.

 

8. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Edwin S. Graf, Stevensville, MT, February 15, 1964, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 355, Folder 4, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

9. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Alona Ratchie, Billings, MT, April 13, 1968, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 354, Folder 6, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

10. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Fred Tinseth, Billings, MT, April 25, 1964, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 489, Folder 1, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

11. Metcalf, Lee, “Civil Rights (1)” radio transcript, no date [circa 1964], Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 660, Folder 1, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

12. Metcalf, Lee, “Civil Rights (2)” radio transcript, no date [circa 1964], Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 660, Folder 1, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

13. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Dexter M. Roberts, Department of English at Montana State University [University of Montana], June 5, 1964, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 489, unknown folder, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

14. Letter, Lee Metcalf to Ray P[?]. Reavley, Montana Highway Users Conference Chairman, June 13, 1964, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 335, Folder 5, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

15. “On Civil Rights: Applause Marks End of Battle,” The Daily News (Huntingdon and Mount Union, Pennsylvania), Saturday, June 20, 1964.

 

16. Letter, Lee Metcalf to J.D. Austell, Johnny’s Bar and Café (Belt, Montana), June 30, 1964, Lee Metcalf Papers, MC 172, Box 335, Folder 5, Montana Historical Society Research Center, Archives.

 

 Montana Historical Society Research Center

 225 North Roberts, P.O. Box 201201, Helena, MT 59620-1201, 406-444-2681, 406-444-2696 (fax).

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