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Ike's Final Battle By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Kasey S. Pipes, president of the Pipes Company, a corporate communications consulting firm. A commissioned officer in the United States Navy Reserve, Mr. Pipes worked on Capitol Hill, served in the Bush White House, wrote speeches for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and was chief author of the 2004 National Republican Party Platform. He is the author of the new book Ike's Final Battle: The Road to Little Rock and the Challenge of Equality.

 

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FP: Kasey S. Pipes, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

 

Pipes: Thanks for having me.  I’m a longtime reader of Frontpage.

 

FP: Well thank you. So what inspired you to write this book?

 

Pipes: I’ve always been fascinated by both Eisenhower and the civil rights movements.  I think they are two of the greatest stories of the 20th century.  So it occurred to me: why not look at the intersection of these two stories?  Originally, I was intrigued by the story of Ike sending the 101st Airborne to Little Rock Central High in 1957.  But what began as a case study of Little Rock transformed into a character study of Ike.  What Ike said about civil rights became less important than what civil rights said about Ike.  And I think it said a lot.  The book chronicles his evolution on the issue from his days in the Army, through the White House years and into his retirement at Gettysburg.

FP: Give us a little bit of a background. What exactly happened at Little Rock in 1957 and why was it one of the most pivotal events of the civil rights movement?

Pipes: Little Rock was one of the earliest and most important tests of the Brown rulings.  In 1954, the Supreme Court had ruled separate schools inherently unequal.  The following year, the court urged local school districts to develop desegregation plans with “all deliberate speed.”  The Little Rock schools came up with a plan to send nine African-American students into Central High in September of 1957.  If all went well, more minority kids would be allowed to attend in subsequent years.  Everything might well have worked out fine were it not for the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus.  He helped orchestrate a series of mob protests in front of the school and then called out the Arkansas National Guard to preserve law and order.  This allowed him to stop the integration of the high school on the grounds that it just wasn’t safe.  Faubus was motivated in part by the primary challenge he had survived in 1956.  He had been criticized by his opponent for being pro-civil rights.  Hence, Faubus decided to co-opt the issue.  His poll numbers went up in September of 1957.  But he didn’t count on the mass media coverage the event got around the nation and around the world.  And he didn’t count on the firm response from President Eisenhower.  Had Ike not acted decisively at Little Rock, it’s hard to imagine how integration could have gone forward anywhere.

 

FP: Can you talk a bit about Ike’s conservative approach to civil rights? Also, there have been claims that Ike didn't care about civil rights, but that isn’t true is it?

 

Pipes: Eisenhower struggled with race early in his life.  He shared many of the common assumptions of white people of his time. But World War II changed that.  He saw the courage of black troops under fire in Europe and he realized how segregation was “criminally stupid.”  By the time he entered the White House, he wanted to address civil rights, but he wanted to do it in a conservative fashion.  That is, he favored an evolution over a revolution.  He believed you had to “change hearts and minds” not just laws.  And so he began to move in a step-by-step manner.  He started by desegregating the District of Columbia.  He finished desegregating the military—a job begun by Truman but one that can be traced to the positive results of Ike’s use of black troops in World War II.  And he appointed the first African-American (Fred Morrow) to a President’s executive staff. 

 

But the Brown ruling challenged his conservative approach.  The ruling was nothing if not a revolution.  And Ike was forced to move much more aggressively than he had hoped to.  He began to pick up the pace a bit.  And he never flinched from his responsibility.  He pushed for and signed the first major civil rights act since Reconstruction in 1957.  And in September of that same year, he successfully engaged in and won the gravest constitutional battle since the Civil War—even to the point of sending the 101st Airborne into a Southern city.  

 

We tend to look back now and think these were modest steps.  But people didn’t think so then.  Millions of Americans were shocked that a President would send troops into an American city. Senate Majority Leader and future Democratic President Lyndon Johnson complained that troops should not be “patrolling our school campuses anywhere.”

 

FP: What were some of Ike’s views on the limited powers of government?

 

Pipes: Eisenhower believed there were limits to the change that the federal government could bring about.  Here is one area where his differences with the civil rights community were profound.  He was repeatedly asked by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to deliver a speech on civil rights or even convene a summit meeting in the South.  This was precisely what Ike didn’t want to do.  He was trying to turn the volume down, not up.  And he had a premonition as early as 1953 that a Little Rock just might erupt somewhere if he didn’t move carefully.  He warned his cabinet that there could be “another civil war” if they weren’t cautious.  He thought that using the bully pulpit was a good way to inflame passions.  And that was the last thing he wanted to do.

 

He also saw himself primarily as an executive.  Political scientists might call him a “stewardship” president.  He wanted to enforce the laws.  But he didn’t believe in grand programs like the New Deal that emanated from the White House.  Thus, though he has an honorable record on civil rights, it’s been overshadowed in history by more grandiose programs like the Great Society and the War on Poverty. 

 

FP: What were some of the key political problems that Ike faced?

 

Pipes: The main political challenge confronting Eisenhower on civil rights was this dilemma: how do you promote minority rights in a country governed by majority rule?  Indeed, a famous book was written in the 1940s by Gunnar Myrdal that made this point explicitly.  The book was appropriately called: “An American Dilemma.”  Ike’ response to this dilemma was to move cautiously, incrementally and in a way that produced results but not a backlash.  It was not at all clear in the 1950s that the American people were ready for major change on civil rights. 

 

FP: Can you chart out for us Ike’s own personal journey on the matter of race?

 

Pipes: Ike came a long way on this issue.  As a young officer at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, he was asked to train African-American troops and was shocked at how poorly they shoot.  He decided it that it had to have been because they were black.  But he had a life-changing experience in World War II in general and at the Battle of the Bulge in particular.  Here, desperate for more troops, he went against War Department policy and offered African-American soldiers the change to pick up a rifle and fight at the front.  By the time these volunteers were trained and ready, the Bulge was over.  But many fought in later battles in the final months of the war.  And Ike took note of and took pride in how well they did.  He later told his aide, Fred Morrow, that this event changed him.  “They fought nobly for their country,” he said of those troops, “and I will never forget.”  As President, even Dr. King found him to be “sincere” on civil rights, though King was frustrated by Ike’s preference for a conservative approach.  And as an ex-president, he continued to increasingly favor stronger civil rights legislation. 

 

FP: What were some of Ike’s concerns over the GOP in his retirement years?

 

Pipes: Ike feared that the Party of Lincoln might be abandoned by African-American voters.  He complained to Governor William Scranton after Barry Goldwater voted against the 1964 Civil Right Act.  He told Scranton that Goldwater’s vote made him “sick” and that he feared the party will become a “white supremacist party.”  Still, even to the end, his support for civil rights was always grounded in conservative soil.  He complained in a letter to George Humphrey that the Great Society had helped create racial unrest because of its “glib assurances” that social ills would all be fixed.

 

FP: Your book is based on a lot of new material -- thousands of newly released documents. Can you tell us a bit about your research?

 

Pipes: There are new documents that I used, including a new collection of Max Rabb papers that were just opened in 2006 (Rabb was the White House staffer who handled civil rights issues).  But there are also plenty of other papers in the archives that have just not been used at all or very much.  For example, there is a series of letters between Ike and JFK when Kennedy decides after Birmingham in 1963 to push for civil rights legislation.  Ike agrees to talk to Republican leaders about finding common ground on the issue.  He also proposes to Kennedy that they find a way to create a “common plank” on civil rights that could be placed in both party platforms in 1964 (yet another example of Ike’s commitment to turning the volume down on the issue). 

 

I also, I believe for the first time, show the chain of events leading from his decision at the Bulge to use black troops all the way to Truman’s Executive Order 9981 that desegregation the military.  Truman’s order, though historic, did not happen in a vacuum.  In many ways, Eisenhower predates Truman on the issue.  There are also remarkable letters from leading Democrats opposing Ike’s decision at Little Rock, including future House Speaker Jim Wright who writes to Ike twice urging him to withdraw the troops.  I did do a handful of interviews, including with Fred Gray (Dr. King’s attorney) and Governor Scranton.  Governor Scranton’s phone conversations with Eisenhower about Goldwater and the state of the party in 1964 have never been reported anywhere.

 

FP: Kasey S. Pipes, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.

 

Pipes: Thank you.


Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.


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