Remember the Moderates: Thomas Curtis
There has been much news about Michael Steele’s ascension to the Chairmanship of the GOP. As the first African American to head the party, there is a hope that the GOP can reach out to African Americans.
Over the last few decades, the GOP has not been known for being forward thinking when it comes to civil rights. But there was a time when the GOP was the party that recieved the lion’s share of African American votes and also took the lead in granting civil rights for African Americans.
In a continuing series, Geoffery Kabaservice highlights another moderate Republican, Thomas Curtis from Missouri. Here is a snippet:
What particularly raised anger against him in the Jim Crow state of Missouri, however, was his unswerving advocacy of civil rights for African-Americans. Contrary to much later mythology, civil rights efforts in Congress during the 1950s and early ‘60s were led by Republican moderates like Curtis rather than better known Democratic liberals.
Washington Post reporter Meg Greenfield recalled that when she first arrived in the nation’s capital in the early ‘60s, she gradually discovered that in terms of the political forces at work opposing and defending segregation, “I seemed to have the lineup of players just about completely wrong.” With the Democratic Party heavily dependent on its autocratic Southern chairmen, even the northern liberal Democrats who were most vociferous in their denunciations of Jim Crow were mainly posturing. “At that moment,” Greenfield wrote, “the principal force truly committed to taking immediate action against the kinds of crude racial repression still officially in place seemed to be, of all things, a bunch of Republicans, many of them unknown.” Some were northeasterners with urban constituencies, but “the effort’s most tireless organizers and/or communicants were a few generally conservative midwestern House members, notably Tom Curtis of Missouri.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 originated in Curtis’ office in 1962, and it was mainly Republican pressure from Curtis and his fellow Republican Judiciary Committee member William McCulloch of Ohio that forced John F. Kennedy to make his first, hesitant message on civil rights in April 1963. Curtis’ defense of civil rights was rooted partly in the Lincoln tradition of the GOP, but more simply in the belief that civil rights were at the base of the American philosophy of government and Judeo-Christian morality and that their defense was “the most fundamental issue that confronts any government at any time,” as he wrote in 1952.
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