Nixon's Civil Rights: Politics, Principle, and Policy

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Overview

Richard Nixon believed that history would show his administration in the forefront of civil rights progress. What does the record really say about civil rights under Nixon? In a groundbreaking new book, Dean Kotlowski offers a surprising study of an administration that redirected the course of civil rights in America.

Nixon's policymaking recast the civil rights debate from an argument over racial integration to an effort to improve the economic station of disadvantaged groups. Kotlowski examines such issues as school desegregation, fair housing, voting rights, affirmative action, and minority businesses as well as Native American and women's rights. He details Nixon's role, revealing a president who favored deeds over rhetoric and who constantly weighed political expediency and principles in crafting civil rights policy.

In moving the debate from the street to the system, Nixon set civil rights on a path whose merits and results are still debated. Nixon's Civil Rights is a revealing portrait of one of the most enigmatic figures of modern American politics and a major contribution to the study of civil rights in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice

Scholars of the Nixon presidency and of the civil rights movement have generally overlooked the Nixon administration's civil rights policies. Kotlowski's book fills this void...The book shows how Nixon moved the civil rights debate from integration to economic opportunity, from rhetoric to action, and expanded the civil rights issue to women and Native Americans, while also helping to establish the Republican Party's "southern strategy". Well-researched and persuasively argued, the book captures the intriguing if frustrating complexity that characterizes Richard Nixon and will appeal equally to Nixon lovers, loathers, and those undecided. Strongly recommended.
— S. C. Matheson

Douglas Brinkley
Nixon's Civil Rights is, far and away, the best book written on the topic. It is contemporary history at its absolute finest: exhaustive research, clear prose, trenchant analysis, and shrewd judgments. Anyone interested in the Civil Rights Movement, the 1970s, and the Nixon era will find this book indispensable. A truly landmark study.
Joan Hoff
This book surpasses anything previously published on Nixon's civil rights in terms of research, including interviews with participants, and interpretation. The segment dealing with women's civil rights provides more details than any other work to date. Other aspects are equally well researched and controversial, particularly Kotlowski's analysis of Nixon's much publicized 'southern strategy.' He shows how limited in scope and short-lived this strategy actually was. His handling of Nixon's successful desegregation of southern schools, the president's approach to implementing civil rights in general, and his first two unsuccessful Supreme Court appointments is insightful and enlightening.
Choice - S. C. Matheson
Scholars of the Nixon presidency and of the civil rights movement have generally overlooked the Nixon administration's civil rights policies. Kotlowski's book fills this void...The book shows how Nixon moved the civil rights debate from integration to economic opportunity, from rhetoric to action, and expanded the civil rights issue to women and Native Americans, while also helping to establish the Republican Party's "southern strategy". Well-researched and persuasively argued, the book captures the intriguing if frustrating complexity that characterizes Richard Nixon and will appeal equally to Nixon lovers, loathers, and those undecided. Strongly recommended.
Choice
Scholars of the Nixon presidency and of the civil rights movement have generally overlooked the Nixon administration's civil rights policies. Kotlowski's book fills this void...The book shows how Nixon moved the civil rights debate from integration to economic opportunity, from rhetoric to action, and expanded the civil rights issue to women and Native Americans, while also helping to establish the Republican Party's "southern strategy". Well-researched and persuasively argued, the book captures the intriguing if frustrating complexity that characterizes Richard Nixon and will appeal equally to Nixon lovers, loathers, and those undecided. Strongly recommended.
— S. C. Matheson
Publishers Weekly
"Rather than a means for rehabilitation," Kotlowski concludes, Nixon's "civil rights policy offers a vista on his multifarious persona." Despite that claim, this account serves as a de facto apologia for Nixon's record, elevating his accomplishments while downplaying his divisiveness and antagonism his Southern strategy, his nominations of Haynsworth and Carswell, his cultivation of racial code words, the racial subtext of his "law and order" politics and the war on drugs or his bigotry revealed in the White House tapes. Nor (except for sporadic comments) does Kotlowski situate Nixon's racial policies within his overall political objectives or within the larger history of the struggle for civil rights, much less the balance of forces during Nixon's presidency. Attention is tightly focused on specific accomplishments and the internal workings of Nixon's administration. Separate chapters cover education, housing, voting rights, employment, black colleges and businesses, relationships with civil rights leaders, Native American policies and women's rights. Sixteen years after the Supreme Court's Brown decision, massive desegregation finally came to the South on Nixon's watch; the 1965 Voting Rights Act was reauthorized, expanded and strengthened; affirmative action was promoted; and money for black colleges and minority businesses jumped substantially. Stressing voluntary desegregation, not integration, Nixon sharply reined in HUD secretary George Romney, his administration's most ardent activist. Native Americans, a much smaller minority largely opposed to integration, served ideally to showcase Nixon as a concerned, effective statesman, but women's rights baffled him, despite sporadic stepsforward. Kotlowski rightly argues that Nixon's policies had profound lasting consequences, but fails to explore them in depth. (Jan.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Richard Nixon has not received much favorable press lately, with such books as Richard Reeves's President Nixon: Alone in the White House (LJ 8/01) portraying the late, beleaguered president as isolated from the public and most of his advisers. In this scrupulously researched investigation of his civil rights policies, Kotlowski (history, Salisbury State) presents a differing view of Nixon a complex leader who listened to the advice of his knowledgeable domestic advisers, notably John Ehrlichman, Daniel Moynihan, and Leonard Garment. Nixon supported every civil rights bill while vice president and as president promoted affirmative action and funding for minority-owned businesses and historically African American colleges. However, he was estranged from most African American civil rights leaders because he opposed busing and integration, and he never made a speech strongly advocating civil rights. Kotlowski, who draws heavily on the work of his mentor, Joan Hoff (Nixon Reconsidered), shows that Nixon will not be remembered for his civil rights policies. This excellent book is a worthy successor to Allen Matusow's Nixon's Economy (LJ 4/15/98) as a skillful appraisal of Nixon's domestic policies. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries. Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A capable dissection of the Nixon administration's policies on such matters as affirmative action and housing integration, charting failures and successes alike. According to Richard Nixon, writes Kotlowski (History/Salisbury State Univ.), "once blacks became educated and entered skilled trades or professions or opened businesses, they would be able to purchase homes in suburbs." The president's thinking on matters of civil rights was seldom more complex than that, and he was motivated more by political expediency than a concern for social justice. Even so, as Kotlowski demonstrates, and even against the opposition of close advisors such as Charles Colson ("a bigot and crass opportunist"), Nixon's lieutenants managed to push through meaningful reforms in civil rights legislation and federal policy, most notably an aggressive program of affirmative action that ignited a firestorm of controversy. Kotlowski leaves little doubt that Nixon was in his heart a racist, but his pragmatic approach to politics and professional survival drove him to set aside his own inclinations, stand up to the Republican Party's archconservative Southern wing, and endorse reform. In taking such actions as increasing funds for the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, Kotlowski wryly observes, "Nixon's motives were not entirely high-minded, since he saw hiking the budget as a way to improve his ‘image' with minorities and liberals." But whatever the motivation, the author insists, Nixon's policies "helped minorities enter the middle class" and broadened federal concern to include other minorities such as Mexican Americans and Native Americans. Though these policies failed in other realms, checkered success,Kotlowski suggests, is better than no success at all; as civil rights activist Roger Wilkins observes in the closing pages, "looked at through the prism of the Reagan Administration, the Nixon civil rights record does not look as bad today as it did in 1971, '72, and '73." Of considerable interest to students of contemporary history, race relations, and federal policy.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674006232
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.41 (w) x 9.47 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Dean J. Kotlowski is Associate Professor of History at Salisbury University.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments

Contents

Prologue: Deeds versus Words

1 Flexible Response: Southern Politics and School Desegregation

2 Open Communities versus Forced Integration: Romney, Nixon, and Fair Housing

3 The Art of Compromise: Extending the Voting Rights Act

4 Jobs Are Nixon's Rights Program: The Philadelphia Plan and Affirmative Action

5 Black Power, Nixon Style: Minority Businesses and Black Colleges

6 A Cold War: Nixon and Civil Rights Leaders

7 Challenges and Opportunities: Native American Policy

8 Stops and Starts: Women's Rights

Epilogue: In the Shadow of Nixon

Notes

Select Bibliography

Index

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