Desegregation, Before Brown

Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, April 29, 2013

The Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education is one of the great landmarks of American history. It is also a good example of the fact that the law is not about the law. Maybe one in 500 college students ever has read the decision, and probably very few Americans could tell you much about the legal questions involved in Brown, but the moral question at the heart of the case—whether an apartheid regime of “separate but [formally] equal” would be allowed to stand in these United States—is well understood. It was well understood by the Court at the time, too: Remarkably, that contentious issue was settled in a unanimous decision. Even Hugo Black, a member of the Ku Klux Klan named to the Supreme Court by Franklin Roosevelt, was on board—but, in all fairness, Justice Black had not joined the Klan because he hated blacks: He had joined the Klan because he hated Catholics.

{snip} It was in all likelihood death that made that unanimity possible: Chief Justice Fred Vinson, appointed by Democrat Harry S. Truman, had been hostile to overturning segregation without an act of Congress calling expressly for that. He died before Brown was decided. His replacement, Earl Warren, appointed by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, was eager to repeal segregation: He had been involved in fighting segregation in the California schools for some years, and as governor had signed the repeal of the last of the state’s segregation statutes.

{snip} Had it not been for segregation, Miss [Linda] Brown would have attended Sumner Elementary, named for the great abolitionist Republican; instead, she was consigned to a segregated school named for Virginia slaveholder and proto-Democrat James Monroe. Sumner Elementary would later be closed by Topeka’s authorities—as part of a legally mandated desegregation plan necessitated by post-Brown litigation.

Everybody knows what happened in Topeka. Nobody knows what happened in Phoenix. And that is both odd and unfortunate.

When Earl Warren was working to undermine segregation in California, a number of his legal colleagues fanned out across the Southwest hoping to challenge segregation both in the courtroom and in the statehouses. We often forget that segregation was not for the most part something cooked up by wicked proprietors of theaters and restaurants (though there were those, too, to be sure), but was in the main something imposed on them by state and local governments. California had attempted to liberalize segregation by adopting a law making it voluntary, its enforcement optional. While that law would later be ruled unconstitutional, it was popular for a time as one possible model for letting a little daylight into the darkness of American race relations. One of the places that was tried was Phoenix.

Here, Barry Goldwater enters the story. Goldwater was a department-store proprietor and a member of the Phoenix city council. He was a very conservative Republican, something that was not at all at odds with his membership in the NAACP, which was, in the 1950s, an organization in which Republicans and conservatives still were very much welcome. The civil-rights community in Phoenix, such as it was, did not quite know what to make of Goldwater. It was already clear by then that he was to be a conservative’s conservative and a man skeptical of federal overreach; while he described himself as being unprejudiced on what was at the time referred to as “the race question,” the fact was that he did not talk much about it, at least in public. His family department stores were desegregated under his watch, though he was not known to hire blacks to work there. But when the Arizona legislature was considering making segregation voluntary in the public schools, Goldwater was lobbying for it behind the scenes. And, perhaps more important, he organized a group of well-known white conservative leaders to do so as well. He did so on the advice of his friend Lincoln Ragsdale.

Lincoln and Eleanor Ragsdale were the first couple of civil rights in Arizona at the time. Lincoln had joined the Tuskegee Airmen in 1944, but the worst injury he ever got during his time in the service was a near-lynching at the hands of a gang of Alabama police officers after he was insufficiently deferential to a white gas-station clerk. One of the cops had intended to kill him, but the others objected on the grounds that he was wearing a military uniform. (Alabama had a very strange sense of patriotism at the time.) Lincoln was kind of a bad-ass: When he and his wife moved into a white neighborhood in Phoenix, vandals painted the word “NIGGER” in two-foot-high letters on the front of his house. Rather than paint over it, Lincoln left it there for all to see: “I wanted to make sure that the white folks knew where the nigger lived,” he later explained. Neighbors offered to buy him out, sparing him and the neighborhood the friction of his presence. He stayed put. {snip}

The Ragsdales worked with the NAACP and the Arizona Council for Civic Unity/Greater Phoenix Council for Civic Unity to fight segregation in restaurants, theaters, and other public places in Phoenix, but the schools were the biggest target. When Lincoln was working to raise money for the NAACP for a lawsuit to integrate the schools, he turned to every possible source he could think of, including the conservative city councilman Barry Goldwater. To his surprise, Goldwater responded with a large check. What surprised him further was that Goldwater became a personal friend and political colleague of the couple, a “great inspiration,” in Lincoln’s words. The Ragsdales, Lincoln said, became the people to whom Goldwater brought “questions about how we felt about certain things, and we’d try to give him a very honest appraisal of it.” Goldwater supported most of the civil-rights legislation that preceded the famous 1964 act, which he opposed as unconstitutional. But as Ragsdale points out in Race Work, he also “helped make Tuskegee airman Chappie James a four-star general while he was in the Senate,” funded the school-integration lawsuit, and raised money to keep the Urban League solvent when it was on the verge of dissolution.

But funding the lawsuit may have been the most important thing Goldwater did in his civil-rights career. As the historian Quintard Taylor of the University of Washington puts it: “Most historians characterize the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education as the death knell for de jure public school segregation. Yet a little-known legal victory by . . . the Arizona NAACP before the Arizona State Supreme Court in 1953 provided an important precedent for the ruling by the highest court in the land.” The NAACP had not been getting very far suing on behalf of black students, but it had made some progress with suits on behalf of Mexican-American students: A 1951 decision had outlawed segregating Hispanic students in the Tolleson School District, and Phoenix refused to comply with the new legal standard, so it was targeted for a lawsuit, too: one that would have ended racial discrimination against any student. {snip} With the support of Goldwater and others, the NAACP sponsored a series of rallies, protests, and fund-raising efforts in support of its litigation.

The NAACP’s federal lawsuit went nowhere. Federal judge David Ling, another FDR appointee, threw the case out on the grounds that the state courts rather than the federal courts were the proper channel for the challenge. New litigation was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, seeking an end to racial discrimination against any student, and in 1953—a year before Brown—segregation was declared illegal in Phoenix, with the presiding judge declaring: “A half century of intolerance is enough.” But Phoenix was the last major city in the west to end segregation of its own accord.

Barry Goldwater was not the most important opponent of racial segregation in Arizona, nor was he the most important champion of desegregating the public schools. What he was was on the right side: He put his money, his political clout, his business connections, and his reputation at the service of a cause that was right and just. While he was doing all that, his eventual nemesis, Lyndon Baines Johnson, a low-rent practitioner of the most crass sort of racist politics, was gutting anti-lynching laws and assuring Democrats that he would offer those “uppity Negroes” “just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”

For more than a century, the Republican party had been the party of civil rights, of abolition, of emancipation, the party of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and the NAACP did not represent a break from that tradition, but a continuation of it.


The problem for Republicans is that reclaiming their reputation as the party of civil rights requires a party leadership that wants to do so, because it cherishes that tradition and the values that it represents. {snip}

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  • steve7789

    Oh didn’ t you know. Democrats are “the real racists” and Republicans just love blacks and zzzzzzzz

    • The__Bobster

      National Review loves to rewrite history, while pushing for open borders

      • ATBOTL

        Has anyone else noticed the shift towards pro-amnesty over the last couple months at NR? They have been running more and more articles supporting amnesty, using PC new-speak like “immigration reform” and “undocumented” and discussing amnesty in neutral terms, as if it were simply a matter of political expediency. They are being a little bit subtle now, but its clear that the goal is to gradually shift coverage to being pro-amnesty.

        This would actually be good for us, to have the clowns at NR drop any pretense of being on the right side.

  • This is an important article to read and understand from the perspective of recent political history.

    Barry Goldwater was the first Republican Presidential candidate ever to get the legitimate votes of Deep South whites and win a bunch of Deep South states, but he was NOT a racialist and he did not understand the race issue much less govern from it. All his life, he was a doctrinaire right-libertarian, and that caused him BOTH to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in 1964 and to oppose the “religious right” and support gay-whatever in his later years.

    • ATBOTL

      That’s a fundamental point that must inform everything we do: they only way to defend white interests is to defend whites AS A RACE. Aracial conservatism has failed over and over and will never be effective.

  • Eagle_Eyed

    Its sad that a once-proud magazine would sink so low as to promote the view that it is better to be on the “right side of history” than to be actually right regarding the constitution, moral order, and traditionalism.

    Goldwater was a principled conservative who believed in freedom of association, not forced immigration. If we had complete freedom of association; whites would be free of blacks at schools, restaurants, and other public places. So while he didn’t come from the same perspective as racial conservatives his government would have been infinitely more beneficial than the forced-civil-rights nonsense we are still experiencing today.

    Quick question–which framer of the 14th believed that a public education was not only a God-given right but that all races must be mixed together in the classroom and included such language in that amendment following the Civil War?

    • The same Congress that passed the 14th and sent it on to the states to be ratified (some states “ratified” it not so voluntarily), within a week’s time, passed a segregated school law for the District of Columbia.

      • Eagle_Eyed

        I truly never knew that. Great bit of irony, and probably the best empirical example which proves the law of unintended consequences.

        • Goldwater also boasted about voting for all the other civil rights acts pre-1964, but the one in ’64 was just too much for his right-libertarian sensibilities to stomach.

          • MikeofAges

            He said he supported the goal of the 1964 act, but thought the issue ought to settled by the state. We have the advantage of hindsight, and can see that the states eventually would have settled the issue in favor of voting rights and the end of legal segregation in commerce, employment and public accomodatiuons. But there would have been a lot of disorder along the way and people would have died.

            Still, there is something to be said for the idea that people value more what they have earned through their own efforts. If that had had to happen before there was change, we would be dealing with a different dynamic today. Believing that you can live in a state of torpor while alway believing that apocalyptic events in a far-away capitol are the only thing that can bail you out is not a good way to go about it.

    • bigone4u

      I mentioned Thaddeus Stevens in a comment yesterday. A truly evil Radical Republican who was common law married to an octoroon. He demanded total integration and mega punishment for the south.

      • Eagle_Eyed

        I was asking rhetorically, but may have been more correct than I thought. But the language of desegregation is nowhere to be found in the 14th, and the 1954 Brown decision is as unconstitutional as any.

        • bigone4u

          My old high school history teacher, a white Irishman who used the n-word in class explained that the Supreme Court claimed that white and black schools could never be equal, so the southern doctrine of separate but equal was invalid. My high school was not desegregated until after I graduated in 65, but as soon as it was forced on us, the school board segregated the girls in one school and the boys in another. They knew the black males would be after the white girls.

          • MikeofAges

            Nothing wrong with one-gender education. Not universal among the monied elite, but quite prevalent. Maybe one of the factors in how they sustain their success as well as their money over the generations. Good enough for them, but not good enough for us. Hell, one gender education might ameliorate some of the problems of integrated education. To whom is anything but mass coeducational schooling for the middle and lower classes anathema? I say, judge the cause by the effect.

  • Seek

    More groveling for the nonexistent black conservative vote from the once-great National Review. Kevin Williamson, one of the magazine’s current star writers, fits right in with the new regime — which is to say, he’s as useless (or worse) as the typical writers for Human Events, The American Spectator or The Weekly Standard.

  • Sandy

    Pretty much confirms that the Republican Party is dead. We should help make sure it is dead by not casting a single vote for a Republican. Once they are out of the way and more Whites get a good dose of diversity then a party representing White interests can be formed. Whites have to get very sick of enrichment before we can get somewhere.

    • jackryanvb

      No. But National Review is certainly dead.

  • The__Bobster

    His replacement, Earl Warren, appointed by Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, was eager to repeal segregation: He had been involved in fighting segregation in the California schools for some years, and as governor had signed the repeal of the last of the state’s segregation statutes.

    So the fix was in.

  • The__Bobster

    But as Ragsdale points out in Race Work, he also “helped make Tuskegee airman Chappie James a four-star general while he was in the Senate,” funded the school-integration lawsuit, and raised money to keep the Urban League solvent when it was on the verge of dissolution.

    Shades of Colon Bowels! I wonder if Chappie stabbed Goldwater in the back, too.

  • Extropico

    I don’t believe forced busing, forced integration, forced immigration, forced minoritization and the eradication of the nexus of democracy to the choice to continue a civilization are enduring “civil rights” that will withstand the test of time.

  • MekongDelta69

    Desegregation, Before Brown
    By Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

    No need to read. I have NR ESP and I know what agenda he’s going to push.

    See – I just saved myself a couple of minutes of eye strain…

  • William G.

    What are articles like this really about? We’ve heard it innumerable times: U. S. history as a morality play, with the South personifying Evil.

    That Mr. Williamson can refer to the ghastly Charles Sumner as a “great abolitionist” should tell Southerners—indeed, all Americans—all they need to know about the “conservative” movement and its flagship publication.

  • bigone4u

    As a child traveling by car thorough the deep south in the 50s and 60s, there were billboards everywhere saying “Impeach Earl Warren.” I can’t help but believe that Eisenhower, who appointed Warren, was part black. There were many rumors about his ancestry long before he rose in the military. In fact, he resembles Thaddeus Stevens’ octoroon common law wife.

    • I highly doubt Eisenhower was in any part black, for this reason: His Germanic last name. Because German-Americans mostly eschewed slavery, there were extremely few black slaves who got Germanic surnames.
      What gets me about Ike is that he was the last President who took the enforcement of American immigration law seriously (Operation Wetback), but he was for school deseg. And he was a German-American who hated Germans, even beyond what one would have expected an American general fighting a war against Germany to be.

      • bigone4u

        I haven’t studied his post war policies toward the Germans, but I have read on other websites that they were exceptionally vicious. Wikipedia lists the claim that Ike was part black as unverified, but there is some evidence for it.

      • MikeofAges

        His mother, Yolanda, may have been part black. Once saw a WWII-era photo which showed Eisenhower and bunch of other generals all in profile, which accented the shape of their heads. Could have been coincidence, but all of the other generals had square, blocky heads while Eisenhower’s was quite rounded and just different in shape. I have called Barack Obama only America’s first openly black president.

        Don’t know the answer to question here, but Eisenhower was so popular and trusted that he could had come out and said he was part black and he would have been elected anyway even that far back. Eisenhower is as good a candidate as FDR for the the designation of “American Statesman of the Century”. As sure as hell ahead of that demon Woodrow Wilson. The world tout entiere is still digging itself out from under the wreckage of Wilsonism.

      • Eagle_Eyed

        Everyone involved in WWII hated the Germans. They started a war which, contra Pat Buchanan, they had no legitimate right to.

        • Wayne

          Wrong! Britain started a war supposedly for Poland which they left to the Soviets post-war. America was aiding the British in violation of neutrality. There is blame for that disastrous war for all, but Bolshevism in particular.

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    Every judicial decision on “civil rights” — including Brown v. Board of Education — derives from the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution. Raymond Wolters, Thomas Muncie Keith Professor of History, University of Delaware, reminds us what the 14th Amendment meant to the legislators who passed it:

    The 14th Amendment, which contains the Equal Protection Clause, was debated by a Congress that segregated its own galleries and that continued to segregate its own galleries for some time thereafter.

    The 14th Amendment was passed by a Congress that had to establish a system of public education for the District of Columbia. And when that Congress, the 39th Congress established public schools for the District of Columbia, they set up a system of segregated schools.

    In fact, some states which had not had segregated schools segregated their schools at about the same time that they were ifying the 14th Amendment.

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      Likewise, Brown v. Board of Education meant something very different to the Justices that passed it that does “civil rights” mean to its champions today. Wolters again:

      “It [Brown] said it was unconstitutional to separate blacks from whites SOLELY [their word] on the basis of race. It was not the concern of the Constitution if the races did not mix much because of geography, economics, personal choice or other similar considerations.

      “Government must desist from OFFICIAL segregation. This was the original understanding. This was confirmed by a number of lower court decisions. The Constitution forbade discrimination and that was Congress’ understanding. When Congress passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it endorsed the common understanding that official discrimination should not be tolerated but racial mixing need not be compelled.

      “Section 407 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act authorized the Attorney General to institute school desegregation actions.

      “Section 401 defined desegregation: ‘Desegregation’ means the assignment of students to public schools and within such schools without regard to their race, color, religion, or national origin, but ‘desegregation’ shall not mean the assignment of students to public schools in order to overcome racial imbalance.”

      “Desegregation means no discrimination, but it does not require integration.

  • Manaphy

    News flash! As far as most political scientists were concerned, before the presidency of Lyndon Johnson (1964-68), the parties were basically switched, and all of today’s “red states” were Blue states before 1964, and all of today’s “blue states” were red states before 1964. Just take a look at the 1916 presidential (Woodrow Wilson) election map and the 2000 election (George Bush II) map. They look like complete mirror images. Conservatives of today have as much in common with republicans back then as we at AmRen do with our friends at the SPLC.



  • concernedcollegekid

    Freedom, safety, and diversity: of those three things, a society can have only two. (I forget where I read that but it was somewhere.) Any political party whose platform fails to admit that is incoherent and nonsensical. Neither of our two major parties even comes close to admitting it.

    • JohnEngelman

      If the diversity is restricted to whites of European ancestry, Jews, Orientals, and east Indians, freedom, safety are possible. It is only those who have more recently emerged from the paleolithic and neolithic era that make diversity dangerous.

  • Rhialto

    I dimly remember Goldwater’s anti-segregation positions being pointed out to MLK during the 1964 elections. MLK said that he was aware of them, but it was of no importance. What was important was what would most benefit blacks in 1964, not what was best in the 1940’s or 1950’s.

  • Ralph

    This is not my America. My America is 100 per cent White. I gain nothing from non-Whites–nothing.

    Whites must adapt to new realities and learn to isolate themselves even in the midst of non-Whites.

    Stay White my friends.

    • Funruffian

      I don’t know. some of those Latina chicks are pretty HOT!
      Just kiddin’.

  • JohnEngelman

    Kevin D. Williamson seems to believe that the Negro race is intrinsically equal to the white race, and that segregation was the result of a colossal misunderstanding. If this is true blacks behave and perform as well as whites, and the downtown areas of our cities, even if black, are centers of civilized living that are safe to walk in after dark.

    Any white person who really believes that suffers from what George Orwell called, “money sheltered ignorance.”

  • blarg

    “It is also a good example of the fact that the law is not about the law.”

    Ya, its about pushing left wing social agenda’s. Gotta wonder how many of these judges and anti-segregationists had their children going to forcibly integrated schools.

    My guess would be none.

  • SoCal LoCal

    I viewed this column at NRO, along with some comments. Most of these people are clueless as their hero, ole’ Gaffer…er, I mean Gipper. That, and being d***less as Mr. Rogers, is sure to win the day! If not, at least it will provoke mirthful contempt from the Left.

  • LHathaway

    We know about Topeka. We know about Phoenix now. No one seems to know that the majority of the United States, in the most populated areas, never had segregation and always had free blacks.

    Any movement that meant to end segregation in the United States would have to be concentrated on rights for white americans. Being pro-color is widely practiced and ballyhooed, white existence, and being pro-white is almost rarely seen or heard. This isn’t equality and it’s certainly not including whites.

  • freddy_hills

    I’m getting a little fed up with articles like this from supposed conservatives, republicans, etc. It’s not enough that most interracial crime targets whites and that whites are discriminated against in education, hiring & government contracts. Now, they want us to bend over and say, “Thank you, sir, may I please have another?”

    • JohnEngelman

      The Republican Party exists in order to advance the economic interests of the richest ten percent of the population. If you keep that in mind you may be angered by stands Republicans take, and I hope you will be, but you will never be surprised.

      • David Ashton

        Aren’t the “ten percent” the “richest” because they have IQs higher than the rest of “the population”?

        • JohnEngelman

          There is a strong correlation between intelligence and income, although it is not one to one.

          • HKwills

            “IQ is the single most powerful predictor of economic and social success” – C.Murray and R. Herrnstein – The Bell Curve, Free Press 1994.

          • JohnEngelman

            Thank you. A few posters here do not like to be reminded that this is true: “Hundreds of studies on millions of people show a three-way pattern. IQ tests are often made to have an average score of 100, with a “normal” range from 85 to 115. Whites average from 100 to 103. Orientals in Asia and the U.S. tend to have higher scores, about 106, even though IQ tests were made for use in the Euro-American culture.”

          • freddy_hills

            That IQ tests were made by whites doesn’t give whites an advantage. The tests were designed to measure intelligence not culture. However, not all Asians have IQs of 106. Southeast Asians are in the 90’s as are Southern Europeans. Central Europeans (Germans, Poles, etc) are around 106 as are Koreans. I suspect Chinese average around 100 but that it’s not evenly distributed. The average is probably much higher in the eastern cities and among expatriots. That’s a fairly common phenomenon. There’s a self-selection bias among most immigrants as well as those who move to the cities.

      • HKwills

        While the Democratic Party is the party of parasites, degenerates and subversives. Republicans may be no better in pandering to hispanics, yet Democrats still excel them in pandering to blacks.

  • Michael_C_Scott

    If I have this straight, we’re supposed to not only continue voting for the party that wants to help the Democrats hand over our country to invading Mexican criminal hordes, but now this same party who wants to force us to hand over more of our money to dysfunctional Africans.

    No thanks.

  • Wayne

    WARNING: When the leftist America-hating anti-white cockroaches and Bill Buckley’s merry band of suck-up losers begin expecting us to hate our own ancestors, apologize for them, and denigrate their memory, the very next step is for them to expect you to surrender your birthright and that of your children. Remember that and never disrespect your ancestors, ESPECIALLY Southern ones and German ones. They fought well against great odds for the benefit of their nations. You are here because of them. Disrespect to ancestors is vile and disgusting. Don’t let yours be insulted!

    • JohnEngelman

      Does this mean you wish Germany won WWII?

      • Wayne

        I wish it had never happened. I wish that America would have kept it’s imperialistic nose out of WWI, which was the genesis of the whole thing.
        I pray that Germans stop groveling and accept their history and inheritance. German soldiers fought damn well for their country in both wars. They fought honorably. They owe NO ONE an apology. And if things keep going the way they are, all of Europe will be sorry team diversity / multiculturalism / Boshevism won.