Civil Rights Rhetoric and the American Presidency

Overview


For a century and a half the words of presidents have framed, expressed, and sometimes challenged the civil rights policies of America. As James Aune notes in his introduction to this important volume, “Perhaps more than in any other policy arena, presidential discourse on civil rights and justice toward African Americans illustrates both the highest level of eloquence and the lowest level of rhetorical selfdeception possible in a representative democracy.”

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Overview


For a century and a half the words of presidents have framed, expressed, and sometimes challenged the civil rights policies of America. As James Aune notes in his introduction to this important volume, “Perhaps more than in any other policy arena, presidential discourse on civil rights and justice toward African Americans illustrates both the highest level of eloquence and the lowest level of rhetorical selfdeception possible in a representative democracy.”

The authors of this book examine the ways in which American presidents and their administrations have defined the meaning of civil rights from Rutherford B. Hayes to William Jefferson Clinton.

Using a variety of methodologies, the book’s contributors examine:

· the depressing tale of how the Southern Redeemer presidents from Hayes to McKinley abandoned the promise of civil rights and reestablished the racial class system;

· the eugenics of Calvin Coolidge’s race rhetoric;

· the creative rhetorical invention of Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman that laid the foundation for a positive reconstitution of the American community;

· the much-debated civil rights legacy of John F. Kennedy’s administration; and

· the efforts by conservative presidents to redefine the civil rights legacy in their own terms.

The book’s insightful closing chapter analyzes President Clinton’s 1997–98 Race Initiative and its failure, drawing conclusions about the role of presidential rhetoric in the near future of civil rights.

The original and challenging analyses and perspectives of this well-written, tightly focused volume shed light on both the history of civil rights and the practice of presidential rhetoric. Whether for individual enlightenment or for course use, readers will find the book addresses many previously unanswered questions and opens new paths for exploring the central American dilemma.

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Editorial Reviews

John Murphy

“Eleven essays examine the ways presidents and their administrations have defined the meaning of civil rights over the last century and a half, from Rutherford B. Hayes to William Jefferson Clinton.. . . provides a coherent overview of presidential rhetoric re civil rights . . . a solid piece of scholarship. There is not a comparable collection out there, and it includes some very, very fine pieces of scholarship.”--John Murphy, University of Georgia
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Product Details

Meet the Author


James Arnt Aune and Enrique Rigsby are both on the faculty of Texas A&M’s Department of Speech Communication, where they served as coordinators of the annual conference in presidential rhetoric devoted to civil rights rhetoric that led to this volume. Aune, who holds a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, is the author of two previous books and a number of articles and book chapters. Rigsby, who holds a dual appointment as coach for life skills for the Texas A&M football team, has a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon, teaches a course on civil rights rhetoric, and is a popular motivational speaker.
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Table of Contents

Introduction : rhetorical constitutions and reconstitutions of the meaning of civil rights 3
Ch. 1 The politics of place and presidential rhetoric in the United States, 1875-1901 16
Ch. 2 Calvin Coolidge and the rhetoric of "race" in the 1920s 41
Ch. 3 "We go ahead together or we go down together" : the civil rights rhetoric of Eleanor Roosevelt 62
Ch. 4 Inaugurating the second reconstruction : President Truman's committee on civil rights 83
Ch. 5 JFK and civil rights : sooner or later 114
Ch. 6 Calling Washington collect : Robert Parris Moses and the Kennedy administration 134
Ch. 7 The genesis of a rhetorical commitment : Lyndon B. Johnson, civil rights, and the vice presidency 155
Ch. 8 Reagan on civil rights : returning to strict construction of the constitution 198
Ch. 9 George Bush and the transformation of civil rights discourse, 1965-1990 231
Ch. 10 Celebritized justice, civil rights, and the Clarence Thomas nomination 268
Ch. 11 The promise and failure of President Clinton's race initiative of 1997-1998 : a rhetorical perspective 301
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