May 10, 2014

President Nixon Advanced Civil Rights and American Society

Editor’s note: In the Fall 2013 issue of Providence College Magazine, Malaku J. Steen ’56, an attorney who worked to enforce civil rights legislation during the Richard Nixon administration, shared his insights on that legislation and that time in our nation’s history.  Colonel John V. Brennan USMC (ret) ’59, who served as Marine Corps Aide to President Nixon and Chief of Staff to former President Nixon, has a different perspective.

The sentiments expressed in the article, “Raised in Segregation, Malaku J. Steen ‘56 lived to fight it” in the Fall 2013 issue of Providence College Magazine don’t do justice to President Nixon’s enlightened philosophy of governing or his sweeping record on civil rights.

Mr. Steen stated that as an official with the Treasury Department, he was one of the most influential people to enforce compliance to the civil rights provisions of the 1972 General Revenue Sharing Bill – legislation which appropriated billions of dollars and decision-making power to State and local governments.

“If [President Richard] Nixon had known what he was signing, he never would have signed the law,” Mr. Steen said.

The evidence shows that contrary to Mr. Steen’s assertion, President Nixon was neither uninformed or detached from the policy making process.

During the signing ceremony at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on October 20, 1972, President Nixon was firm in his 1968 campaign goal to empower American liberty and democracy by ensuring governing authority was less federally concentrated, and closer and more responsive to the people.

“As State and local governments are revitalized, I believe that our people will begin to feel once again that they are in control,” President Nixon stated, “they can shape events rather than being shaped by events, that they can make things happen rather than always having things happen to them.”

The results aligned with President Nixon’s original intent. From 1972 through 1986 more than $80 billion of taxpayer revenue was moved away from Washington.

President Nixon’s record also shows a commitment to enforcing and restoring the civil rights of all Americans, which began when he helped lead the charge for the 1957 Civil Rights Act as Vice President.

When Richard Nixon took the oath of office as president in 1969, nearly 70% of black children in America’s South were still attending all-black schools, despite the Brown v. Board of Education U.S.Supreme Court ruling 15 years earlier.

By forming and working through bi-racial delegations in the region, President Nixon deftly weaved a fine line between initiating integration while not aggravating traditional sensitivities that would become an obstacle to progress.

By 1974, the unjust practice peacefully moved towards its demise with only 8% of black children attending all-black schools.

“There’s no doubt about it – the Nixon administration accomplished more in 1970 to desegregate Southern schools than had been done in the previous 16 years,” wrote New York Times columnist Tom Wicker. “There’s no doubt either that it was Richard Nixon personally who conceived, orchestrated, and led the administration’s desegregation effort.”

Civil rights advancement also extended to higher education and the work place. From 1969 to 1973, the Nixon administration more than doubled federal aid to predominantly black schools, and secured matching funds for schools with more than 50% of students below the poverty line.

From 1969 to 1971, the government’s purchases from black businesses increased from $13 million to $142 million. President Nixon also issued an executive order to create an Office of Minority Enterprise in the Department of Commerce.

Furthermore, the Nixon administration dismantled institutionalized racism in labor unions that excluded minorities from skilled trades by mandating federal contractors comply with equal opportunity employment laws.

Women and Hispanics too benefited from the administration’s equal opportunity initiatives.

President Nixon appointed women to more positions in the executive branch than all of his predecessors, including high-level White House, agency and commission posts. He also signed Title IX, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex at any educational institution receiving federal assistance.

The Nixon administration counted Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Census for the first time in history, and also provided Latinos equal opportunity for executive positions throughout the government.

President Nixon’s enlightened republicanism extended to the American Indian, ending two centuries of destructive federal policies “that oscillated from broken treaties, isolation, and the appropriation of lands, to forced assimilation, and the aggressive termination of the U.S. government’s solemn obligation as a trustee to the nation’s tribes.”

He gave the tribes the ability to govern themselves, while assuring that their property rights would be protected and that they be provided with federal assistance for education, health care, and economic opportunity.

“The Nixon policy was so distinct that no administration since then or, I would submit to you, in the future, is going to be able to surpass it,” said American Indian lawyer and activist Sam DeLoria. “It went so far beyond what Stewart Udall [Secretary of the Interior, 1961-1969] and the Kennedy and Johnson administrations were willing to do.”

During a 2012 discussion at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill concluded that the 37th President’s efforts to end the shameful legacy of segregation was consistent with a pattern of deeply held beliefs.

“It was part of a set of ideas about how to advance the condition of the society.”

Col. John V. Brennan ’59

Marine Corps Aide to President Nixon