A Question of Tactics

The Mail

The the Editors of the Summer News:

In the article by Steven V. Roberts on July 5, "The Civil Rights Bill," you claim that continuation of massive public demonstrations by Negro action groups "might well destroy all hope for any sort of meaningful legislation." Although I agree that violence in Washington would be self-defeating, I would remind you that such organized protest represents the civil rights package's raison d'etre. Furthermore, I would submet that such organizations as the N.A.A.C.P. and C.O.R.E. must maintain the momentum of the crisis psychology.

I doubt very seriously that, as you suggest, pressure tactics would alienate the Southern moderate. You will recall that the governors of North Carolina and Kentucky (whom I would consider to be "moderates") adopted courageous antisegregation policies in response to demonstrations in their states. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the crisis psychology creates a mood of bipartisanship. Such an atmosphere is prerequisite to invoking cloture in the Senate or by-passing the House Rules Committee (i.e., Rep. Howard Smith) through the discharge petition.

It is my view that responsibly-led, well-disciplined demonstrations enhance the prospect of a Civil Rights Act of 1963. Allan D. Schlosser.

MR. ROBERTS REPLIES: In discussing the civil rights bill now before Congress it is imperative to recognize the reality of the political situation, and decide what course of action will be most effective in securing passage of legislation that includes as much of the Administration's original package as possible. It would be unfortunate indeed if Negro leaders stick to their "principles" of direct action, and in doing so defeat all chance for legal redress of their grievances. For the tactics employed in the past by advocates of integration remain only tactics, means to the higher end of increased opportunity and equality for Negro citizens.


Our end in the present business is as strong a civil rights bill as possible. And it is my judgment, after studying the statements of men with acute political sensibilities (such as Rep. Emanuel Celler and President Kennedy), that a march on Washington by Negroes this summer will force many moderates from Southern and Western states to retrench, and vote against the bill. It is not so much a question, as Mr. Schiesser says, of "allenating" these moderates. Again, it is a question of politics. Many of these men would not be able to vote for a bill if it appeared to their constituencies that they were bowing before the threat of violence in the capital.

One of the great political myths in this country says that calm, rational deliberation is the only way to produce wise laws. Negroes have certainly gained a great deal through previous demonstrations, but they were dealing with local authorities, not federal ones; and they were often dealing with businessmen, not legislators. I am not saying that the myth is a valid one. But it maintains a strong grip on the mind of the average citizen.

So it becomes, in the end, a hard political question about numbers. At this point it appears that Negroes would lose far more votes than they would gain by marching on Washington. They already have any people who would be stirred by such a march; certainly the pictures in the newspapers of police dogs biting Negroes in Birmingham carried sufficient emotional impact. And the Negro cause will lose the votes of the moderates, many of whom have recently undergone a deep rethinking about the need for strong legislation. It is crucial that the Negro leadership give these men a chance to vote for civil rights legislation.

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