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And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Continuing Struggle for Freedom in Americaby Mary Frances Berry
Synopses & Reviews
This is the story of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, through its extraordinary fifty years at the heart of the civil rights movement and the struggle for justice in America.
Mary Frances Berry, the commissions chairperson for more than a decade, author of My Face Is Black Is True (“An essential chapter in American history from a distinguished historian”—Nell Painter), tells of the commissions founding in 1957 by President Eisenhower, in response to burgeoning civil rights protests; how it was designed to be an independent bipartisan Federal agency—made up of six members, with no more than three from one political party, free of interference from Congress and presidents—beholden to no government body, with full subpoena power, and free to decide what it would investigate and report on.
Berry writes that the commission, rather than producing reports that would gather dust on the shelves, began to hold hearings even as it was under attack from Southern segregationists. She writes how the commissions hearings and reports helped the nonviolent protest movement prick the conscience of the nation then on the road to dismantling segregation, beginning with the battles in Montgomery and Little Rock, the sit-ins and freedom rides, the March on Washington.
We see how reluctant government witnesses and local citizens overcame their fear of reprisal and courageously came forward to testify before the commission; how the commission was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; how Congress soon added to the commissions jurisdiction the overseeing of discriminating practices—with regard to sex, age, and disability—which helped in the enactment of the Age Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.
Berry writes about how the commissions monitoring of police community relations and affirmative action was fought by various U.S. presidents, chief among them Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, each of whom fired commissioners who disagreed with their policies, among them Dr. Berry, replacing them with commissioners who supported their ideological objectives; and how these commissioners began to downplay the need to remedy discrimination, ignoring reports of unequal access to health care and employment opportunities.
Finally, Dr. Berrys book makes clear what is needed for the future: a reconfigured commission, fully independent, with an expanded mandate to help oversee all human rights and to make good the promise of democracy—equal protection under the law regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or national origin.
In this work on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Berry makes an impassioned and convincing argument for a reconfigured commission--fully independent, and with an expanded mandate that would allow it to oversee the preservation of all human rights.
About the Author
Mary Frances Berry received bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Howard University, a doctorate in history from the University of Michigan, and a Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. Dr. Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought at the University of Pennsylvania and lives in Washington, D.C.
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History and Social Science » African American Studies » Civil Rights Movement