What actions did President Eisenhower take to address minority rights? Be sure to discuss direct presidential actions as well as legislation he supported. Explain the obstacles he faced in Congress and why he was able to get legislation passed.

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Although Eisenhower isn't normally regarded as one of the main figures of the civil rights movement, he initiated the program of civil rights legislation that culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Acts Right of 1965 under President Johnson. Eisenhower publicly supported what became the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was designed to ensure that African Americans would be able to exercise their right to vote. Furthermore, the proposed measure aimed to establish a new division within the Justice Department to monitor civil rights abuses.

Though sympathetic to the cause of civil rights, Eisenhower didn't show much in the way of leadership on the issue. Instead, he tended to react to events rather than proactively shaping them. His administration's civil rights policy was largely a response to events in Little Rock, where Eisenhower had deployed federal troops to enforce school desegregation.

Eisenhower's civil rights bill faced a number of serious hurdles before it could pass through Congress. Both houses of Congress were controlled by the Democrats, many of whom were white supremacist Southerners deeply hostile to any kind of civil rights legislation, no matter how modest its aims. Ironically, it was Lyndon Johnson, then the Majority Leader in the Senate, and later to become the champion of civil rights as President, who helped to prevent the Eisenhower administration from getting the Civil Rights Bill passed in its original form. Johnson knew that there was a real danger that the bill could split his party right down the middle—between the white supremacist Southerners and the more liberal Democrats on the East and West Coasts. So he used his party's control of Congress to water down the administration's proposals without blocking them altogether.

In its heavily-diluted form, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 still aimed to increase the number of African American voters. But thanks to Johnson and other white Southern Democrats in Congress, the enforcement mechanisms for achieving this aim were so weak as to be almost worthless. Anyone found guilty of depriving a citizen of his or her voting rights would be required to face an all-white jury—as only white people could serve on juries in the South—virtually guaranteeing that they would be acquitted. Eisenhower didn't help his own case by publicly admitting that he didn't understand certain provisions of the Act. For their part, most leading figures of the civil rights movement were scathing, dismissing the Act as at best a missed opportunity and at worst a total sham. Nevertheless, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 was hugely symbolic, not least because it was the first such act in 82 years.

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