A Matter of Justice

amatterofjusticecoverPublished in 2007 by Simon & Schuster, A Matter of Justice is widely deemed the definitive study of President Eisenhower’s civil rights policies.

Until A Matter of Justice was published in 2007, historians portrayed Eisenhower as aloof, if not outwardly hostile, to the plight of African-Americans in the 1950s. It was assumed that he opposed the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision mandating the desegregation of public schools, that he regretted appointing Earl Warren as the Court’s chief justice, that he was a bystander in Congress’s passage of the civil rights acts of 1957 and 1960, and that he so mishandled the Little Rock crisis that he was forced to dispatch troops to rescue a failed policy.

In this sweeping narrative, David A. Nichols demonstrates that these assumptions are wrong. Drawing on archival documents neglected by biographers and scholars, Nichols takes the reader inside the Oval Office to look over Ike’s shoulder as he, working with Attorney General Herbert Brownell, desegregated the District of Columbia and completed the desegregation of the armed forces, including schools for military dependents prior to the Brown decision. Eisenhower appointed five pro-civil rights justices to the Supreme Court and consistently nominated anti-segregation judges to lower courts. He proposed and fought for the first civil rights legislation in eighty-two years, and dramatically demonstrated the commitment of the federal government to enforcement of the Brown decision by sending troops to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

In short, Nichols demonstrates that Eisenhower was more progressive on civil rights for African-Americans in the 1950s than his predecessor, Harry Truman, and his successors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who did not actively support the cause until the 1960s. Eisenhower was more a man of deeds than of words, preferring quiet action to political grandstanding. His initiatives, however modest compared to later reforms, were seminal in the context of the 1950s and laid vital groundwork for the progress of the 1960s.

[reviews]

“Eisenhower is one of the unsung heroes of the quest for civil rights and racial justice, and David Nichols captures the essence of his quiet leadership in this compelling, well-researched, and judicious book. Fifty years after his deft handling of the Little Rock crisis, Eisenhower gets his due in this important and readable work.” –Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Einstein: His Life and Universe

“A Matter of Justice is superb. This generation needs to appreciate just what President Eisenhower did to bring about a major revolution in this country, especially in his appointment of Earl Warren and great federal judges in the South. Few recognize the difficult decision he had to make in putting federal troops into Little Rock, but that action made the difference in the success of school desegregation.” –William T. Coleman, Jr., co-author of the Brown v. Board of Education brief and former Secretary of Transportation

“This is revisionist history at its best — provocative yet unbiased. With anyone else in the White House during the 1950s, the civil rights movement would have emerged more slowly. Nichols’s brisk account is also a terrific character study of Eisenhower as a misunderstood but effective politician.” –Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

“A Matter of Justice is a fascinating and important book. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Eisenhower administration presided over major civil rights advances, paving the way for the better-known breakthroughs of the 1960s. David Nichols vividly narrates this crucial but hitherto unappreciated aspect of the civil rights revolution.” –Fred I. Greenstein, author of The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader

“David Nichols makes a fascinating and persuasive case that President Eisenhower, for all his rhetorical flubs, made great contributions to the advance of civil rights. Deeds, not words, as Nichols puts it.” –Anthony Lewis, former New York Times columnist and author of Gideon’s Trumpet

“David Nichols has mastered the last frontier of Eisenhower revisionism — civil rights. A Matter of Justice is a triumph.” –Daun van Ee, editor of The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower

“David A. Nichols has written an important, revealing book about Eisenhower’s extensive civil rights record. A Matter of Justice will be indispensable to future Eisenhower biographers.” –James F. Simon, Martin Professor of Law at New York Law School and author of Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney