Interview with Herbert Brownell, Jr.
QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

LET ME ASK YOU, COULD YOU OUTLINE FOR US PRESIDENT EISENHOWER'S BASIC POSITION ON THE BROWN DECISION AND ON, UH, WHAT HIS ROLE WAS WITH REGARDS IT.

Herbert Brownell, Jr.:

I'd have to give a little background I think to make it understandable as to what President Eisenhower's attitude toward the Brown decision uh, was. He came into office on a pledge to abolish discrimination in all forms in any area where the federal government was involved. Example, he abolished segregation in the District of Columbia. He abolished, completed the abolition of segregation in the armed forces. He ordered the interstate commerce commission to develop non seg—a non segregation policy in public interstate transportation. Established a commission to eliminate discrimination in federal uh, contracts. So that he was very clear on that and very faithful to his campaign pledges. Put—and he put uh, a black man, Herbert Morrill on the White House staff and established an office of civil rights in the White House. Uh, when the, so when the Brown case came down, it really transferred the problem of segregation in the public schools from a local matter the so called neighborhood schools which were governed by local school boards, to one that was partially under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Against that background he took the position that it was his duty and he would enforce the uh, supremacy of the federal government. And the question of discrimination and segregation in the public schools. He however held himself aloof from, uh, being an advocate or taking a part in, in day to day enforcement of the Brown decision. He did that basically because the second Brown decision uh, left the primary enforcement job to the local school boards. President Eisenhower had asked the Supreme Court to establish a deadline, say 60 or 90 days under which every school board in the country would have to file a plan of, for desegregation. That would have given the executive branch, that is the president, some, something to get a grip on whereby he could say you're in default, you haven't started the desegregation process. The Supreme Court however rejected that argument which we made and uh let, had no deadline whatsoever, they substituted the doctrine of all deliberate speed which was from an enforcement standpoint almost impossible to uh, get a grasp on. And so that they had to wait until some situation arose in the local courts which would uh, justify a decision by the President that the Brown case was being flouted. That of course later arose in the Little Rock case where he took very decisive action to enforce the Brown decision.