We don’t hear much about the Civil Rights Act of 1957. That’s because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were required to provide some teeth to the federal governments attempt to dismantle Jim Crow. But there was one thing that came out of the 1957 law that is worth noting. It resulted in the creation of what Eric Holder often called the “crown jewel” of DOJ: the Civil Rights Division. It became the part of the federal bureaucracy that is tasked with enforcing civil rights laws.
We can learn a lot about the Republican Party’s opposition to civil rights by how they have responded over the years to this division within the Justice Department. Dwight Eisenhower was president when it was created, before the Republican Southern Strategy in response to passage of subsequent civil rights laws. At the time, he was still the leader of the so-called “party of Lincoln.”
During the Kennedy and Johnson years, the men appointed to run the Civil Rights Division (Burke Marshall and John Doar) were leaders within the administration on these issues. For example:
In March 1965, Doar was the first to arrive in Montgomery, Alabama, during the third of the Selma to Montgomery marches. He walked into Montgomery half a block ahead of the march in his capacity as Assistant Attorney General. (Washington Monthly)