Monday, September 09, 2019

On This Date: Republican President Dwight Eisenhower Signed The 1957 Civil Rights Act

By Gail Heriot |

ON THIS DAY IN 1957: The Civil Rights Act of 1957 was signed into law by President Eisenhower. It was the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction, and on the surface its purpose might seem relatively modest–to create two new institutions, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Civil Rights (on which I currently sit). But those institutions were extremely important to the history civil rights. Without them it would have been a lot hard to eliminate Jim Crow.

Does the Commission on Civil Rights continue to serve a good purpose?

That’s a question for Congress, not me.  

In 2007, I testified about the Commission to a Senate Committee celebrating the Act’s 50th anniversary. Alas, I was much too optimistic about the Commission’s ability to turn out useful reports. My defense is that I was new to the Commission then. These days I’m tickled to death when I can just get it not to embarrass itself.

On the other hand, it’s not impossible for the Commission to do good work. While it’s always an uphill battle, we’ve done it a few times in recent years.