WASHINGTON (Jan. 15)
President Truman expressed alarm today at “a latent spirit” of racial and religious bigotry in the United States and warned against development of Ku Klux Klanism “unless we do something tangible to prevent it.”
Speaking informally to the first organizational meeting of his Committee on Civil Rights, which conferred in an all-day session at the White House, the President urged implementation of the Bill of Rights and promised the assistance of the Attorney General and the Office of the President in getting “tangible results.”
“I don’t want to see any race discrimination,” the President declared. “I don’t want to see any religious bigotry break out in this country as it did in 1922.” Without mentioning the K.K.K. by name the President recalled its upsurge in 1922 in Missouri.
“I want our Bill of Rights implemented in fact,” he said. “We have been trying to do this for one hundred and fifty years. We are making progress, but we are not making progress fast enough. This country could very easily be faced with a situation similar to the one with which it was faced in 1922. That date was impressed on my mind because in 1922 I was running for my first elective office–county Judge of Jackson County–and there was an organization in that county that met on hills and burned crosses and worked behind sheets. There is a tendency in this country for that situation to develop again, unless we do something tangible to prevent it.”
The President said that he wanted the Attorney General to be informed exactly “how far he can go legally from the Federal Government’s standpoint” in enforcing the law. He said that “none of us are entirely familiar with just how far the Federal Government under the Constitution has a right to go in these civil rights matters.”
AUTHORIZES A “VERY BROAD INQUIRY” INTO PROBLEM OF CIVIL RIGHTS
The President reiterated, in his concluding remarks, his concern at the growth of bigotry and discrimination. “I have been very much alarmed at certain happenings around the country,” he declared, “that go to show there is a latent spirit in some of us that isn’t what it ought to be.” He pointed to the difficulty in some places of enforcing “even local laws.” While opposed to exercise by the Federal Government of “dictatorial powers locally,” the President asserted “there are certain rights under the Constitution of the United States which I think the Federal Government has a right to protect.”
C.E. Wilson, chairman of the committee, and president of the General Electric Company, issued a statement declaring that the President had authorized him to announce that Mr. Truman wishes the committee to make “a very broad inquiry” into the problem of civil rights.
“Our immediate task will be to review the present civil rights statutes and to look into the possibility and advisability of strengthening them through new legis lation. However, the President wants us to go beyond the immediate problem of enforcement and get at the basic causes of civil rights violations and the occasional breakdown of local law enforcement,” Wilson said.
Attorney General Tom Clark met with the committee and outlined difficulties facing the Department of Justice in enforcement of the present Federal civil rights statutes.
PRESIDENT’S COMMITTEE ASKS GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS TO SUBMIT THEIR VIEWS
At a press conference held by the President’s Committee following the conclusion of the meeting at the White House, Wilson indicated that the Committee will maintain the widest possible contact with organizations and individuals interested in helping to stamp out bigotry in the United States. He said:
“The President’s Committee on Civil Rights can only accomplish the objectives outlined in the President’s directive if it truly represents the wishes of all the people of the country. No group is capable of interpreting the rights of a free people without adequate expression from all who constitute our democracy. To that end, the committee sarnestly requests that all individuals and groups having a concern with civil rights address to the Committee in Washington written communications indicating their activities and views.”
Asked if the Committee would recommend a constitutional amendment to provide for the better protection of civil rights, Wilson would not comment, except to say the Committee’s assignment was very broad.