Another argument for why the position of African-Americans changed is because of Truman’s presidency. Despite his membership in the Klu Klux Klan, he was a defender of civil rights. Whether this was because he truly believed in it, or simply to gain votes is still debated, but it cannot be ignored that he made a large impact on the fight for Civil Rights. In 1946 Truman commissioned an organisation called the President’s Committee on Civil Rights, The committee was instructed to investigate the status of civil rights in the country and propose measures to strengthen and protect them. They delivered their report, named “To Secure These Rights” in 1947 and were disbanded. The report explored gaps in wages, cases of lynching, positions in the military, job discrimination, differences in life expectancy and quality of healthcare and highlighted a desperate need for social reform. New laws were proposed to stop lynching. Truman aimed to make Roosevelt’s Fair Employment Practises Commission a permanent fixture but this move was stopped by Southern senators who filibustered the bill. However, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington successfully enacted and enforced their own FEPC laws at the state level. Although most legal cases and laws were passed in the later years of the fight for civil rights, there were some court cases which had a significant impact. The case of Sweatt vs. Painter (1950) involved a black man, Heman Sweatt, who wasn’t allowed into the School of Law of the University of Texas, even though he had fit the course requirements. The University’s President was called Theophilus Painter. At the time, no law school in Texas would admit black students. There was a law school in Texas for Black students, but Sweatt was able to prove that the facilities and quality of teaching in the school was not the same as the white school. It showed that the idea that segregation could be “separate but equal” was untrue. Sweatt won the case and was enrolled at the school, thanks to the NAACP backing the case and bringing it to the Supreme Court. The case was influential in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education four years later. The Brown case was originally involving one man, Oliver Brown, who was outraged that his daughter had to attend a segregated black school one mile away which she would have to get to by bus; while a white school was just a few minutes’ walk from her house. The case eventually included thirteen other sets of parents on behalf of their 20 children. The case was taken to the Supreme Court by the NAACP and the case was won. The Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. The decision overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896.
Although I believe that presidential action had a significant effect on the Civil Rights movement, as To Secure These Rights made segregation a public issue that could not be ignored, Truman could only do so much, mostly due to the fact he could be blocked by State law and by senators who disagreed with him such as the Dixiecrats. Nevertheless, the FEPC would only apply to government owned businesses, and so actually would not have impacted the majority of African-Americans. Truman’s second term in office ended in 1953, and he was replaced by Dwight Eisenhower, who did not share Truman’s passion for Civil Rights. He refused to comment on the case of Brown v. Board of Education, making it clear to the general public that he still supported segregation. Brown was a very significant case that was a landmark in the civil rights movement, however the change was not de facto, and it took years for most schools to fully integrate. Therefore, I believe that the impact of the Second World War was the most important factor, as it changed many people’s beliefs and made the government realise they needed to do something about segregation and racism in their country.