After the March — The Immediate Task

Memo No. 5
August 30, 1963

TO: Cooperating Organizations
FROM: Arnold Aronson


The March on Washington, as a great and moving experience, is secure in history. In size and spirit it exceeded the warmest expectations of those who issued the call. The world witnessed it and the world acclaimed the dignity and quiet purpose of the marchers. That much is certain. What is still in doubt is what effect the March will have on the fate and shape of the Civil Rights Bill.

In their round of morning meetings with the heads of Congress and their late afternoon meeting with the President, the leaders of the March occasionally had the frustrating sense of travelling in circles. The meetings were cordial and helpful. But the feeling remains: no one is ready to follow the splendid example set by more than 200,000 marchers and take the first bold step toward strengthening the measure.

The President, for instance, has previously acknowledged the need for two of the key amendments the March leaders asked to have added to the bill. He supports pending FEPC legislation and in the aftermath of Birmingham, he and the Justice Department admitted they were powerless to act against dogs and fire hoses without something like “across the Board Part III” — the broadened power that would permit the Attorney General to go into court and obtain an injunction against any local violation of constitutional rights — as a matter of governmental responsibility not (as the bill proposes) something he will do only in school cases and then if those injured persons are afraid or cannot afford to act for themselves.

Unquestionably Mr. Kennedy will accept both provisions if they are included in the bill. But he is hesitant to urge their addition and prefers to leave that decision with Congress.

Sen. Mike Mansfield (D. Mont.), Senate majority leader, said he would support the bill in whatever form it comes from the House. But he feels it would be improper to attempt to influence the House in arriving at its decision.

Speaker of the House John W, McCormack (D., Mass.) assured the leaders that FEPC and “Across the Board Part III” would pass the House “if” — and there’s the rub — if the House Judiciary Committee adds the two provisions to the bill.

Rep. Emanuel Celler (D., N.Y.), Chairman of the Committee, has said he would accept the two additions. But he leaves the next move up to the Committee and more particularly to Subcommittee No. 5 (which he also heads), whose closed door sessions on the measure are still continuing. But although a majority of the subcommittee is on record in favor of the amendments these members are reluctant to make the additions if they feel they will not survive in the full Committee.

If the circle is to be broken, it is up to us. It is our task to convince the White House, Congress and the Department of Justice that the March on Washington will go on throughout the country until effective legislation is passed. Because Congressmen usually take an extended Labor Day vacation, the subcommittee will not meet on the bill again until Sept. 9. This delay is our opportunity. Once again, the need is plain: we need a flood of mail from all over the country urging the White House and the members of the House Judiciary Committee to adopt “Across the Board Part III” and FEPC as part of the civil rights program.

The people who came to Washington stood up before the Lincoln Memorial and pledged, each one, that “I will work to make sure that my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of our land.” Now they must sit down and write.

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