Report of the President’s Committee on Civil Rights Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Though civil rights activism had been ongoing since the end of the Civil War, as World War II drew to an end, many African Americans saw an opportunity for renewed progress. Many black soldiers, fighting in segregated units, served in World War II and returned home with a feeling that they had earned the right to be treated as equals. However, the response they received—especially, but not exclusively, in the Southern states—was that they were still viewed as inferior by white American society. On December 5, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9808, forming the President's Committee on Civil Rights and charging it with examining the status of civil rights in the United States and reporting back to the president with recommendations as to how to strengthen and protect those rights. Almost one year later, the fifteen-member committee produced a 178-page report, entitled To Secure These Rights: The Report of The President's Committee on Civil Rights.

Summary Overview

Though civil rights activism had been ongoing since the end of the Civil War, as World War II drew to an end, many African Americans saw an opportunity for renewed progress. Many black soldiers, fighting in segregated units, served in World War II and returned home with a feeling that they had earned the right to be treated as equals. However, the response they received—especially, but not exclusively, in the Southern states—was that they were still viewed as inferior by white American society. On December 5, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9808, forming the President's Committee on Civil Rights and charging it with examining the status of civil rights in the United States and reporting back to the president with recommendations as to how to strengthen and protect those rights. Almost one year later, the fifteen-member committee produced a 178-page report, entitled To Secure These Rights: The Report of The President's Committee on Civil Rights.

Defining Moment

As World War II came to an end, some things in the United States had changed—President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died in the last months of the war, with Truman succeeding him; Nazi Germany had been defeated and America's wartime ally, the Soviet Union, was increasingly seen as a threat; and the development of atomic weapons changed the very nature of warfare. Some things, however, remained much the same—racism and segregation were still just as pervasive, despite the fact that so many African Americans had fought and died alongside other Americans from every other racial and ethnic background during the war.

When Truman became president in April 1945, he was primarily concerned with the final stages of the war and the construction of the postwar world, where, increasingly, concern was focused on the perils of Communism both in the Soviet Union and at home. However, Truman also demonstrated a concern about civil rights that many did not expect. He was born into a family that had supported segregation, and he had even been accused of affiliations with the Ku Klux Klan early in his political career, though he had long since repudiated the Klan and its beliefs. When he became president, the Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House—as well as all other federal buildings—was completely segregated. Many states had laws specifying public segregation of the races.

This was not only the United States of which Truman became president; it was the country to which the 880,000 African American World War II veterans had just returned. When they did insist upon their rights being respected or spoke out against segregation, groups like the Klan met them with violence. On September 19, 1946, a meeting between Truman and civil rights leaders took place, and Truman was informed about the deterioration of race relations, especially in the South, where even returning soldiers still in uniform were subjected to racial violence at the hands of whites. The day following the meeting, Truman consulted with his attorney general about what could be done to stop the violence, suggesting the appointment of a commission to examine civil rights in the country and to make recommendations. On December 5, 1946, Truman signed Executive Order 9808, officially forming the President's Committee on Civil Rights. The committee had the right to subpoena testimony from whomever it wished, including people with a significant amount of influence in political, business, and civil rights circles.

On June 29, 1947, Truman spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial to members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He committed the federal government to the advancement of civil rights for the first time, alienating both Republicans and his fellow Democrats, many of whom were from Southern states and had no intention of dismantling segregation. However, the report of the committee four months later would present the nation's first blueprint for doing so.

Author Biography

In December 1946, President Harry S. Truman established the fifteen-member Committee on Civil Rights, whose charge was to make recommendations as to legislation that could be passed by Congress to protect people from racial discrimination. In Executive Order 9808, Truman instructed the committee to scrutinize the state of civil rights in the United States and offer suggestions for legislation and other means of improving upon the defense of those rights in written form. The committee was made up of people from politics, business, and civil rights organizations, including its chairperson, General Electric CEO Charles E. Wilson, African American attorney Sadie T. Alexander, American Civil Liberties Union cofounder Morris L. Ernst, Catholic bishop Francis J. Haas, Charles Luckman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt Jr., the son of Truman's presidential predecessor. The committee's report to President Truman was published in October 1947 and the group disbanded in December of that year.

Historical Document

The Committee's Recommendations

I. To strengthen the machinery for the protection of civil rights, the President's Committee recommends:

1. The reorganization of the Civil Rights Section of the Department of Justice to provide for:

The establishment of regional offices;

A substantial increase in its appropriation and staff to enable it to engage in more extensive research and to act more effectively to prevent civil rights violations;

An increase in investigative action in the absence of complaints;

The greater use of civil sanctions;

Its elevation to the status of a full division in the Department of Justice.

The creation of regional offices would enable the Civil Rights Section to provide more complete protection of civil rights in all sections of the country. It would lessen its present complete dependence upon United States Attorneys and local FBI agents for its work in the field. Such regional offices should be established in eight or nine key cities throughout the country, and be staged with skilled personnel drawn from the local areas. These offices should serve as receiving points for complaints arising in the areas, and as local centers of research, investigation, and preventive action. Close cooperation should be maintained between these offices, local FBI agents, and the United States Attorneys.

The Department of justice has suggested that heads of these regional offices should have the status of Assistant United States Attorneys, thereby preserving the centralization of federal criminal law enforcement. The President's Committee is fearful that under this plan the goal of effective, courageous, and nonpolitical civil rights protection in the field will not be reached unless satisfactory measures are taken to prevent these assistants from becoming mere political subordinates within the offices of the United States Attorneys.

Additional funds and personnel for research and preventive work would free the Civil Rights Section from its present narrow status as a prosecutive agency. Through the use of properly developed techniques and by the maintenance of continuous checks on racial and other group tensions, much could be done by the Section to reduce the number of lynchings, race riots, election irregularities, and other civil rights violations. Troublesome areas, and the activities of organizations and individuals who foment race tensions could be kept under constant scrutiny.

A larger staff and field-office facilities would also make it possible for the Section to undertake investigations of suspected civil rights violations, without waiting for the receipt of complaints. There are many problems, such as the possible infringement of civil rights resulting from practices used in committing persons to mental institutions, which might be so studied. These investigations in the absence of complaints could also be combined with educational and mediation efforts to check chronic incidents of police brutality or persistent interferences with the right to vote.

The difficulty of winning convictions in many types of criminal civil rights cases is often great. The Committee believes that the Civil Rights Section should be granted increased authority, by Congress if necessary, to make appropriate use of civil sanctions, such as suits for damages or injunctive relief, suits under the Declaratory Judgment Act, and the right of intervention by means of briefs amicus curiae in private litigation where important issues of civil rights law are being determined.

Finally, the Committee urges congressional action raising the Civil Rights Section to full divisional status in the Department of justice under the supervision of an Assistant Attorney General. We believe this step would give the federal civil rights enforcement program prestige, power, and efficiency that it now lacks. Moreover, acceptance of the above recommendations looking toward increased activity by the Civil Rights Section and the passage by Congress of additional civil rights legislation would give this change added meaning and necessity.

2. The establishment within the FBI of a special unit of investigators trained in civil rights work.

The creation of such a unit of skilled investigators would enable the FBI to render more effective service in the civil rights field than is now possible. At the present time, its investigators are concerned with enforcement of all federal criminal statutes. In some instances, its agents have seemingly lacked the special skills and knowledge necessary to effective handling of civil rights cases, or have not been readily available for work in this area.

These special agents should work in close harmony with the Civil Rights Section and its regional offices.

3. The establishment by the state governments of law enforcement agencies comparable to the federal Civil Rights Section.

There are large areas where, because of constitutional restrictions, the jurisdiction of the federal government as a protector of civil rights is either limited or denied. There are civil rights problems, unique to certain regions and localities, that can best be treated and solved by the individual states. Furthermore, our review of the work of the Civil Rights Section has persuaded us of the cardinal importance of developing specialized units for the enforcement of civil rights laws. We believe that this is true at the state level too. States which have, or will have, civil rights laws of their own, should buttress them with specially designed enforcement units. These would have the further effect of bringing the whole program closer to the people. They would also facilitate systematic local cooperation with the federal Civil Rights Section, and they would be able to act in the areas where it has no authority.

Here and elsewhere the Committee is making recommendations calling for remedial action by the states. The President's Executive Order invited us to consider civil rights problems falling within state as well as federal jurisdiction. We respectfully request the President to call these recommendations to the attention of the states and to invite their favorable consideration.

4. The establishment of a permanent Commission on Civil Rights in the Executive Office of the President, preferably by Act of Congress;

And the simultaneous creation of a joint Standing Committee on Civil Rights in Congress.

In a democratic society, the systematic, critical review of social needs and public policy is a fundamental necessity. This is especially true of a field like civil rights, where the problems are enduring, and range widely. From our own effort, we have learned that a temporary, sporadic approach can never finally solve these problems.

Nowhere in the federal government is there an agency charged with the continuous appraisal of the status of civil rights, and the efficiency of the machinery with which we hope to improve that status. There are huge gaps in the available information about the field. A permanent Commission could perform an invaluable function by collecting data. It could also carry on technical research to improve the fact-gathering methods now in use. Ultimately, this would make possible a periodic audit of the extent to which our civil rights are secure. If it did this and served as a clearing house and focus of coordination for the many private, state, and local agencies working in the civil rights field, it would be invaluable to them and to the federal government.

A permanent Commission on Civil Rights should point all of its work towards regular reports which would include recommendations for action in the ensuing periods. It should lay plans for dealing with broad civil rights problems, such as those arising from the technological displacement and probable migration of southern Negroes to cities throughout the land. It should also investigate and make recommendations with respect to special civil rights problems, such as the status of Indians and their relationship to the federal government.

The Commission should have effective authority to call upon any agency of the executive branch for assistance. Its members should be appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate. They should hold a specified number of regular meetings. A full-time director should be provided with an adequate appropriation and staff.

Congress, too, can be aided in its difficult task of providing the legislative ground work for fuller civil rights. A standing committee, established jointly by the House and the Senate, would provide a central place for the consideration of proposed legislation. It would enable Congress to maintain continuous liaison with the permanent Commission. A group of men in each chamber would be able to give prolonged study to this complex area and would become expert in its legislative needs.

5. The establishment by the states of permanent commissions on civil rights to parallel the work of the federal Commission at the state level.

The states should create permanent civil rights commissions to make continuing studies of prejudice, group tensions, and other local civil rights problems; to publish educational material of a civil rights nature; to evaluate existing legislation; and to recommend new laws. Such commissions, with their fingers on their communities' pulses, would complement at the state level the activities of a permanent federal Commission on Civil Rights.

6. The increased professionalization of state and local police forces.

The Committee believes that there is a great need at the state and local level for the improvement of civil rights protection by more aggressive and efficient enforcement techniques. Police training programs, patterned after the FBI agents' school and the Chicago Park District Program, should be instituted. They should be oriented so as to indoctrinate officers with an awareness of civil rights problems. Proper treatment by the police of those who are arrested and incarcerated in local jails should be stressed. Supplemented by salaries that will attract and hold competent personnel, this sort of training should do much to make police forces genuinely professional.

II. To strengthen the right to safety and security of the person, the President's Committee recommends:

1. The enactment by Congress of new legislation to supplement Section 51 of Title 18 of the United States Code which would impose the same liability on one person as is now imposed by that statute on two or more conspirators.

The Committee believes that Section 51 has in the past been a useful law to protect federal rights against encroachment by both private individuals and public officers. It believes the Act has great potential usefulness today. Greater efforts should be made through court tests to extend and make more complete the list of rights safeguarded by this law.

2. The amendment of Section 51 to remove the penalty provision which disqualifies persons convicted under the Act from holding public office.

There is general agreement that this particular penalty creates an unnecessary obstacle to the obtaining of convictions under the Act and that it should be dropped.

3. The amendment of Section 52 to increase the maximum penalties that may be imposed under it from a $1,000 fine and a one-year prison term to a $5,000 fine and a ten-year prison term, thus bringing its penalty provisions into line with those in Section 51.

At the present time the Act's penalties are so light that it is technically a misdemeanor law. In view of the extremely serious offenses that have been and are being successfully prosecuted under Section 52, it seems clear that the penalties should be increased.

4. The enactment by Congress of a new statute, to supplement Section 52, specifically directed against police brutality and related crimes.

This Act should enumerate such rights as the right not to be deprived of property by a public officer except by due process of law; the right to be free from personal injury inflicted by a public officer; the right to engage in a lawful activity without interference by a public officer; and the right to be free from discriminatory law enforcement resulting from either active or passive conduct by a public officer.

This statute would meet in part the handicap in the use of Section 52 imposed by the Supreme Court in Screws v. United States. This was the case in which the Court required prosecutors to establish that defendants had willfully deprived victims of a “specific constitutional right.” In later prosecutions, the Civil Rights Section has found it very difficult to prove that the accused acted in a “willful” manner. By spelling out some of the federal rights which run against public officers, the supplementary statute would relieve the Civil Rights Section of this extraordinary requirement.

The Committee considered and rejected a proposal to recommend the enactment of a supplementary statute in which an attempt would be made to include a specific enumeration of all federal rights running against public officers. Such an enumeration would inevitably prove incomplete with the passage of time and might prejudice the protection of omitted rights. However, the committee believes that a new statute, such as the one here recommended, enumerating the rights for the protection of which Section 52 is now most commonly employed, is desirable.

5. The enactment by Congress of an anti-lynching act.

The Committee believes that to be effective such a law must contain four essential elements. First, it should define lynching broadly. Second, the federal offense ought to cover .participation of public officers in a lynching, or failure by them to use proper measures to protect a person accused of a crime against mob violence. The failure or refusal of public officers to make proper efforts to arrest members of lynch mobs and to bring them to justice should also be specified as an offense.

Action by private persons taking the law into their own hands to mete out summary punishment and private vengeance upon an accused person; action by either public officers or private persons meting out summary punishment and private vengeance upon a person because of his race, color, creed or religion—these too must be made crimes.

Third, the statute should authorize immediate federal investigation in lynching cases to discover whether a federal offense has been committed. Fourth, adequate and flexible penalties ranging up to a $10,000 fine and a 20 year prison term should be provided.

The constitutionality of some parts of such a statute, particularly those providing for the prosecution of private persons, has been questioned. The Committee believes that there are several constitutional bases upon which such a law might be passed and that these are sufficiently strong to justify prompt action by Congress.

6. The enactment by Congress of a new criminal statute on involuntary servitude, supplementing Sections 443 and 444 of Title 18 of the United States Code.

This statute should make full exercise of congressional power under the Thirteenth Amendment by defining slavery and involuntary servitude broadly. This would provide a basis for federal prosecutions in cases where individuals are deliberately deprived of their freedom by public officers without due process of law or are held in bondage by private persons. Prosecution under existing laws is limited to the narrow, technical offense of peonage or must be based upon the archaic “slave kidnaping” law, Section 443.

7. A review of our wartime evacuation and detention experience looking toward the development of a policy which will prevent the abridgment of civil rights of any person or groups because of race or ancestry.

We believe it is fallacious to assume that there is a correlation between loyalty and race or national origin. The military must be allowed considerable discretionary power to protect national security in time of war. But we believe it is possible to establish safeguards against the evacuation and detention of whole groups because of their descent without endangering national security. The proposed permanent Commission on Civil Rights and the Joint Congressional Committee might well study this problem.

8. Enactment by Congress of legislation establishing a procedure by which claims of evacuees for specific property and business losses resulting from the wartime evacuation can be promptly considered and settled.

The government has acknowledged that many Japanese American evacuees suffered considerable losses through its actions and through no fault of their own. We cannot erase all the scars of evacuation; we can reimburse those who present valid claims for material losses.

III. To strengthen the right to citizenship and its privileges, the President's Committee recommends:

1. Action by the states or Congress to end poll taxes as a voting prerequisite.

Considerable debate has arisen as to the constitutionality of a federal statute abolishing the poll tax. In four times passing an anti-poll tax bill, the House of Representatives has indicated its view that there is a reasonable chance that it will survive a court attack on constitutional grounds. We are convinced that the elimination of this obstacle to the right of suffrage must not be further delayed. It would be appropriate and encouraging for the remaining poll tax states voluntarily to take this step. Failing such prompt state action, we believe that the nation, either by act of Congress, or by constitutional amendment, should remove this final barrier to universal suffrage.

2. The enactment by Congress of a statute protecting the right of qualified persons to participate in federal primaries and elections against interference by public officers and private persons.

This statute would apply only to federal elections. There is no doubt that such a law can be applied to primaries which are an integral part of the federal electoral process or which affect or determine the result of a federal election. It can also protect participation in federal election campaigns and discussions of matters relating to national political issues. This statute should authorize the Department of Justice to use both civil and criminal sanctions. Civil remedies should be used wherever possible to test the legality of threatened interferences with the suffrage before voting rights have been lost.

3. The enactment by Congress of a statute protecting the right to qualify for, or participate in, federal or state primaries or elections against discriminatory action by state officers based on race or color, or depending on any other unreasonable classification of persons for voting purposes.

This statute would apply to both federal and state elections, but it would be limited to the protection of the right to vote against discriminatory interferences based on race, color, or other unreasonable classification. Its constitutionality is clearly indicated by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Like the legislation suggested under (2) it should authorize the use of civil and criminal sanctions by the Department of Justice.

4. The enactment by Congress of legislation establishing local self government for the District of Columbia; and the amendment of the Constitution to extend suffrage in presidential elections, and representation in Congress to District residents.

The American tradition of democracy requires that the District of Columbia be given the same measure of self-government in local affairs that is possessed by other communities throughout the country. The lack of congressional representation and suffrage in local and national elections in the District deprives a substantial number of permanent Washington residents of a voice in public affairs.

5. The granting of suffrage by the States of New Mexico and Arizona to their Indian citizens.

These states have constitutional provisions which have been used to disfranchise Indians. In New Mexico, the constitution should be amended to remove the bar against voting by “Indians not taxed.” This may not be necessary in Arizona where the constitution excludes from the ballot “persons under guardianship.” Reinterpretation might hold that this clause no longer applies to Indians. If this is not possible, the Arizona constitution should be amended to remove it.

6. The modification of the federal naturalization laws to permit the granting of citizenship without regard to the race, color, or national origin of applicants.

It is inconsistent with our whole tradition to deny on a basis of ancestry the right to become citizens to people who qualify in every other way.

7. The repeal by the states of laws discriminating against aliens who are ineligible for citizenship because of race, color, or national origin.

These laws include the alien land laws and the prohibition against commercial fishing in California. The removal of race as a qualification for naturalization would remove the structure upon which this discriminatory legislation is based. But if federal action on Recommendation 6 is delayed, state action would be eminently desirable.

8. The enactment by Congress of legislation granting citizenship to the people of Guam and American Samoa.

This legislation should also provide these islands with organic acts containing guarantees of civil rights, and transfer them from naval administration to civilian control. Such legislation for Guam and American Samoa has been introduced in the present Congress.

9. The enactment by Congress of legislation, followed by appropriate administrative action, to end immediately all discrimination and segregation based on race, color, creed, or national origin, in the organization and activities of all branches of the Armed Services.

The injustice of calling men to fight for freedom while subjecting them to humiliating discrimination within the fighting forces is at once apparent. Furthermore, by preventing entire groups from making their maximum contribution to the national defense, we weaken our defense to that extent and impose heavier burdens on the remainder of the population.

Legislation and regulations should expressly ban discrimination and segregation in the recruitment, assignment, and training of all personnel in all types of military duty. Mess halls, quarters, recreational facilities and post exchanges should be non-segregated. Commissions and promotions should be awarded on considerations of merit only.

Selection of students for the Military, Naval, and Coast Guard academies and all other service schools should be governed by standards from which considerations of race, color, creed, or national origin are conspicuously absent. The National Guard, reserve units, and any universal military training program should all be administered in accordance with these same standards.

The Committee believes that the recent unification of the armed forces provides a timely opportunity for the revision of present policy and practice. A strong enunciation of future policy should be made condemning discrimination and segregation within the armed services.

10. The enactment by Congress of legislation providing that no member of the armed forces shall be subject to discrimination of any kind by any public authority or place of public accommodation, recreation, transportation, or other service or business.

The government of a nation has an obligation to protect the dignity of the uniform of its armed services. The esteem of the government itself is impaired when affronts to its armed forces are tolerated. The government also has a responsibility for the well-being of those who surrender some of the privileges of citizenship to serve in the defense establishments.

IV. To strengthen the right to freedom of conscience and expression the President's Committee recommends:

1. The enactment by Congress and the state legislatures of legislation requiring all groups, which attempt to influence public opinion, to disclose the pertinent facts about themselves through systematic registration procedures.

Such registration should include a statement of the names of officers, sources of financial contributions, disbursements, and the purposes of the organization. There is no question about the power of the states to do this. Congress may use its taxing and postal powers to require such disclosure. The revenue laws should be changed so that tax returns of organizations claiming tax exemption show the suggested information. These returns should then be made available to the public.

The revenue laws ought also to be amended to require the same information from groups and organizations which claim to operate on a non-profit basis but which do not request tax exemption. The Committee also recommends further study by appropriate governmental agencies looking toward the application of the disclosure principle to profit-making organizations which are active in the market place of public opinion.

Congress ought also to amend the postal laws to require those who use the first-class mail for large-scale mailings to file disclosure statements similar to those now made annually by those who use the second-class mail: The same requirement should be adopted for applicants for metered mail permits. Postal regulations ought also to require that no mail be carried by the Post Office which does not bear the name and address of the sender.

2. Action by Congress and the executive branch clarifying the loyalty obligations of federal employees, and establishing standards and procedures by which the civil rights of public workers may be scrupulously maintained.

The Committee recognizes the authority and the duty of the government to dismiss disloyal workers from the government service. At the same time the Committee is equally concerned with the protection of the civil rights of federal workers. We believe that there should be a public enunciation by responsible federal officials of clear, specific standards by which to measure the loyalty of government workers.

It is also important that the procedure by which the loyalty of an accused federal worker is determined be a fair, consistently applied, stated “due process.” Specific rules of evidence should be laid down. Each employee should have the right to a bill of particular accusations, representation by counsel at all examinations or hearings, the right to subpoena witnesses and documents, a stenographic report of proceedings, a written decision, and time to prepare a written brief for an appeal. Competent and judicious people should have the responsibility for administering the program.

The Attorney General has stated to the Committee in a letter, “It is my firm purpose, insofar as my office has control over this program, to require substantial observance of the safeguards recommended by the President's Committee.”

V. To strengthen the right to equality of opportunity, the President's Committee recommends:

1. In general:

The elimination of segregation, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, from American life.

The separate but equal doctrine has failed in three important respects. First, it is inconsistent with the fundamental equalitarianism of the American way of life in that it marks groups with the brand of inferior status. Secondly, where it has been followed, the results have been separate and unequal facilities for minority peoples. Finally, it has kept people apart despite incontrovertible evidence that an environment favorable to civil rights is fostered whenever groups are permitted to live and work together. There is no adequate defense of segregation.

The conditioning by Congress of all federal grants-in-aid and other forms of federal assistance to public or private agencies for any purpose on the absence of discrimination and segregation based on race, color, creed, or national origin.

We believe that federal funds, supplied by taxpayers all over the nation, must not be used to support or perpetuate the pattern of segregation in education, public housing, public health services, or other public services and facilities generally. We recognize that these services are indispensable to individuals in modern society and to further social progress. It would be regrettable if federal aid, conditioned on non-segregated services, should be rejected by sections most in need of such aid. The Committee believes that a reasonable interval of time may be allowed for adjustment to such a policy. But in the end it believes that segregation is wrong morally and practically and must not receive financial support by the whole people.

A minority of the Committee favors the elimination of segregation as an ultimate goal but opposes the imposition of a federal sanction. It believes that federal aid to the states for education, health, research and other public benefits should be granted provided that the states do not discriminate in the distribution of the funds. It dissents, however, from the majority's recommendation that the abolition of segregation be made a requirement, until the people of the states involved have themselves abolished the provisions in their state constitutions and laws which now require segregation. Some members are against the non-segregation requirement in educational grants on the ground that it represents federal control over education. They feel, moreover, that the best way ultimately to end segregation is to raise the educational level of the people in the states affected; and to inculcate both the teachings of religion regarding human brotherhood and the ideals of our democracy regarding freedom and equality as a more solid basis for genuine and lasting acceptance by the peoples of the states.

2. For employment:

The enactment of a federal Fair Employment Practice Act prohibiting all forms of discrimination in private employment, based on race, color, creed, or national origin.

A federal Fair Employment Practice Act prohibiting discrimination in private employment should provide both educational machinery and legal sanctions for enforcement purposes. The administration of the act should be placed in the hands of a commission with power to receive complaints, hold hearings, issue cease-and-desist orders and seek court aid in enforcing these orders. The Act should contain definite fines for the violation of its procedural provisions. In order to allow time for voluntary adjustment of employment practices to the new law, and to permit the establishment of effective enforcement machinery, it is recommended that the sanction provisions of the law not become operative until one year after the enactment of the law.

The federal act should apply to labor unions and trade and professional associations, as well as to employers, insofar as the policies and practices of these organizations affect the employment status of workers.

The enactment by the states of similar laws;

A federal fair employment practice statute will not reach activities which do not affect interstate commerce. To make fair employment a uniform national policy, state action will be needed. The successful experiences of some states warrant similar action by all of the others.

The issuance by the President of a mandate against discrimination in government employment and the creation of adequate machinery to enforce this mandate.

The Civil Service Commission and the personnel offices of all federal agencies should establish on-the-job training programs and other necessary machinery to enforce the nondiscrimination policy in government employment. It may well be desirable to establish a government fair employment practice commission, either as a part of the Civil Service Commission, or on an independent basis with authority to implement and enforce the Presidential mandate.

3. For education:

Enactment by the state legislatures of fair educational practice laws for public and private educational institutions, prohibiting discrimination in the admission and treatment of students based on race, color, creed, or national origin.

These laws should be enforced by independent administrative commissions. These commissions should consider complaints and hold hearings to review them. Where they are found to be valid, direct negotiation with the offending institution should be undertaken to secure compliance with the law. Wide publicity for the commission's findings would influence many schools and colleges sensitive to public opinion to abandon discrimination. The final sanction for such a body would be the cease-and-desist order enforceable by court action. The Committee believes that educational institutions supported by churches and definitely identified as denominational should be exempted.

There is a substantial division within the Committee on this recommendation. A majority favors it.

4. For housing:The enactment by the states of laws outlawing restrictive covenants;

Renewed court attack, with intervention by the Department of justice, upon restrictive covenants.

The effectiveness of restrictive covenants depends in the last analysis on court orders enforcing the private agreement. The power of the state is thus utilized to bolster discriminatory practices. The Committee believes that every effort must be made to prevent this abuse. We would hold this belief under any circumstances; under present conditions, when severe housing shortages are already causing hardship for many people of the country, we are especially emphatic in recommending measures to alleviate the situation.

5. For health services:

The enactment by the states of fair health practice statutes forbidding discrimination and segregation based on race, creed, color, or national origin, in the operation of public or private health facilities.

Fair health practice statutes, following the pattern of fair employment practice laws, seem desirable to the Committee. They should cover such matters as the training of doctors and nurses, the admission of patients to clinics, hospitals and other similar institutions, and the right of doctors and nurses to practice in hospitals. The administration of these statutes should be placed in the hands of commissions, with authority to receive complaints, hold hearings, issue cease-and-desist orders and engage in educational efforts to promote the policy of these laws.

6. For public services:

The enactment by Congress of a law stating that discrimination and segregation, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, in the rendering of all public services by the national government is contrary to public policy;

The enactment by the states of similar laws;

The elimination of discrimination and segregation depends largely on the leadership of the federal and state governments. They can make a great contribution toward accomplishing this end by affirming in law the principle of equality for all, and declaring that public funds, which belong to the whole people, will be used for the benefit of the entire population.

The establishment by act of Congress or executive order of a unit in the federal Bureau of the Budget to review the execution of all government programs, and the expenditures of all government funds, for compliance with the policy of nondiscrimination;

Continual surveillance is necessary to insure the non-discriminatory execution of federal programs involving use of government funds. The responsibility for this task should be located in the Bureau of the Budget which has the duty of formulating the executive budget and supervising the execution of appropriation acts. The Bureau already checks the various departments and agencies for compliance with announced policy. Administratively, this additional function is consistent with its present duties and commensurate with its present powers.

The enactment by Congress of a law prohibiting discrimination or segregation, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, in interstate transportation and all the facilities thereof, to apply against both public officers and the employees of private transportation companies;

Legislation is needed to implement and supplement the Supreme Court decision in Morgan v. Virginia. There is evidence that some state officers are continuing to enforce segregation laws against interstate passengers. Moreover, carriers are still free to segregate such passengers on their own initiative since the Morgan decision covered only segregation based on law. Congress has complete power under the Constitution to forbid all forms of segregation in interstate commerce. We believe it should make prompt use of it.

The enactment by the states of laws guaranteeing equal access to places of public accommodation, broadly defined, for persons of all races, colors, creeds, and national origins.

Since the Constitution does not guarantee equal access to places of public accommodation, it is left to the states to secure that right. In the 18 states that have already enacted statutes, we hope that enforcement will make practice more compatible with theory. The civil suit for damages and the misdemeanor penalty have proved to be inadequate sanctions to secure the observance of these laws. Additional means, such as the revocation of licenses, and the issuance of cease-and-desist orders by administrative agencies are needed to bring about wider compliance. We think that all of the states should enact such legislation, using the broadest possible definition of public accommodation.

7. For the District of Columbia:

The enactment by Congress of legislation to accomplish the following purposes in the District;

Prohibition of discrimination and segregation, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, in all public or publicly-supported hospitals, parks, recreational facilities, housing projects, welfare agencies, penal institutions, and concessions on public property;

The prohibition of segregation in the public school system of the District of Columbia;

The establishment of a fair educational practice program directed against discrimination, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, in the admission of students to private educational institutions;

The establishment of a fair health practice program forbidding discrimination and segregation by public or private agencies, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, with respect to the training of doctors and nurses, the admission of patients to hospitals, clinics, and similar institutions, and the right of doctors and nurses to practice in hospitals;

The outlawing of restrictive covenants;

Guaranteeing equal access to places of public accommodation, broadly defined, to persons of all races, colors, creeds, and national origins.

In accordance with the Committee's division on anti-discrimination laws with respect to private education, the proposal for a District fair education program was not unanimous.

Congress has complete power to enact the legislation necessary for progress toward full freedom and equality in the District of Columbia. The great majority of these measures has been recommended in this report to Congress and to the states to benefit the nation at large. But they have particular meaning and increased urgency with respect to the District. Our nation's capital, the city of Washington, should serve as a symbol of democracy to the entire world:

8. The enactment by Congress of legislation ending the system of segregation in the Panama Canal Zone.

The federal government has complete jurisdiction over the government of the Panama Canal Zone, and therefore should take steps to eliminate the segregation which prevails there.

VI. To rally the American people to the support of a continuing program to strengthen civil rights, the President's Committee recommends:

A long term campaign of public education to inform the people of the civil rights to which they are entitled and which they owe to one another.

The most important educational task in this field is to give the public living examples of civil rights in operation. This is the purpose of our recommendations which have gone before. But there still remains the job of driving home to the public the nature of our heritage, the justification of civil rights and the need to end prejudice. This is a task which will require the cooperation of the federal, state, and local governments and of private agencies. We believe that the permanent Commission on Civil Rights should take the leadership in serving as the coordinating body. The activities of the permanent Commission in this field should be expressly authorized by Congress and funds specifically appropriated for them.

Aside from the education of the general public, the government has immediate responsibility for an internal civil rights campaign for its more than two million employees. This might well be an indispensable first step in a large campaign. Moreover, in the armed forces, an opportunity exists to educate men while in service. The armed forces should expand efforts, already under way, to develop genuinely democratic attitudes in officers and enlisted men.

As the Committee concludes this Report we would remind ourselves that the future of our nation rests upon the character, the vision, the high principle of our people. Democracy, brotherhood, human rights—these are practical expressions of the eternal worth of every child of God. With His guidance and help we can move forward toward a nobler social order in which there will be equal opportunity for all.


The Committee wishes to record its sincere tribute to its Executive Secretary, Robert K. Carr, and to its other staff members, without whose talents and devoted services the Committee's task could not have been completed.

The staff is listed below:


Robert K. Carr, Executive Secretary.

Milton D. Stewart, Director of Research.

Nancy F. Wechsler, Counsel.

Charles J. Durham, Assistant to the Executive Secretary.

Frances Harriett Williams, Assistant to the Executive Secretary.

Robert E. Cushman, Special Consultant.

Rachel R. Sady, Research Analyst.

Herbert Kaufman, Research Aide.

Joseph Murtha, Research Aide.

John L. Vandegrift, Research Aide.

Richard A. Whiting, Research Aide.

Robert L. Bostick, Graphics.


Merle Whitford Huntington, Administrative Officer.

Ellen C. Ardinger.

Idamaye C. Boardley.

Jacqueline Carlisle.

Hannah S. Goldenthal.

Mahala B. Johnson.

Ann E. Sudwarth.

Charles N. Coleman.

Edward W. Jackson.

The Committee wishes also to record its deep sense of appreciation for the generous help given to it by many individuals, private organizations, and government agencies. During the period from January to September 1947, the Committee met ten times. At these meetings it heard some two score witnesses. The Committee had correspondence with nearly 250 private organizations and individuals. It was also assisted by some twenty-five agencies of the federal government and by an extended list of state and local public agencies.


abridgment: a shortened or condensed form of a book or speech that still retains the basic contents; reduction or curtailment

amicus curiae: “friend of the court”; someone who is not party to a case but gives information regarding the case without the solicitation of the parties.

briefs: a writ summoning one to answer to any action; a memorandum of points of fact of law for use in conducting a case

commensurate: having the same measure; of equal extent or duration; proportionate; adequate

enunciation: utterance of pronunciation; a formal announcement or statement

fallacious: containing a fallacy; logically unsound; misleading

indoctrinate: to instruct in a doctrine, principle, or ideology, especially to imbue with a particular biased belief of point of view; to teach or inculcate

stenographic: the art of writing in shorthand

suffrage: the right to vote, especially in a political election

Document Analysis

After a year-long process of investigation and thought, the President's Committee on Civil Rights issued its report, To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights. In this document, the committee makes specific recommendations as to the best ways for the federal government to live up to the basic principles upon which the nation had been founded: freedom of conscience, equality of opportunity, and the right to safety and security for all Americans. In doing so, the committee has harsh words and advises direct action to address the problems of racial segregation and discrimination in American society.

The first section of the fourth chapter of the report gives a set of recommendations for improving the offices of the federal government that would deal with civil rights issues. It proposes the improvement of the Civil Rights Section of the Justice Department, by establishing regional offices able to concentrate on areas where civil rights abuses were more prevalent. It proposes that the office act more proactively, rather than simply responding to complaints, and that the state governments establish similar offices. The section advises the founding of a special group within the Federal Bureau of Investigation with training in civil rights matters. The committee also suggests instituting permanent commissions on civil rights at both the federal and state levels, and increasing professionalization of police forces.

The second section deals with recommended changes to federal law, in order to make it easier to convict those guilty of civil rights violations. It proposes the passage of a federal anti-lynching law—something that, although proposed a number of times, all prior administrations had not supported. Laws against involuntary servitude are sought. Also, in direct response to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, laws against unlawful detention of people not charged with a crime and in favor of the resolution of claims of losses by Japanese Americans during the war are advocated.

The third section recommends actions to ensure the rights of minorities, such as the right to vote and run for office. In immigration matters, the report proposes the end of all laws discriminating against people of different national origins. Finally, it deals with the problem of segregation and discrimination in the armed forces, urging laws against these practices. It recommends the registration of groups so that their true motives might be known. Interestingly, the president's committee suggests that the president's own loyalty program be revisited to ensure that it did not trample on the civil rights of federal employees.

The concluding sections of the report deal with “the elimination of segregation, based on race, color, creed, or national origin, from American life,” in matters of housing, health care, employment, and public services, as well as the end of segregation in facilities of interstate transportation, such as bus stations. Specific suggestions mention the District of Columbia and federal territories, but overall, the report recommends the complete desegregation and end of discrimination in all aspects of American life.

Essential Themes

The recommendations of the President's Committee on Civil Rights were revolutionary, considering the state of race relations in the United States at the time of its formation. It proposed the dismantling of many state and local laws, especially in the American South, but also in many other regions. Truman called for the implementation of the recommendations, despite the fact that he was seeking reelection in 1948 and would need the votes of many Southern Democrats. He made the recommendations a Cold War imperative, stating that how the United States responded would demonstrate its superiority to the Communist world.

Truman took action on his own in 1948, issuing two executive orders that ended segregation in the armed forces and that instituted nondiscriminatory employment practices in the federal government. Many, noting the difficulty Americans had in accepting Truman's views on civil rights, predicted an easy Republican victory in the year's presidential election. When the so-called Dixiecrats walked out of the Democratic National Convention and supported South Carolina governor Strom Thurmond for president, their predictions seemed to be on the verge of coming true. However, in a surprise result, Truman won a second term and was able to institute more of his civil rights agenda.

A 1951 executive order established the Committee on Government Contract Compliance, which sought to impose federal civil rights laws on all federal contractors. Truman's efforts to eliminate poverty in America's slums by replacing run-down housing with new housing “estates” was not as successful, as not enough housing was built to hold those displaced by having their homes razed, and many African American families ended up living on the streets. However, despite the challenges, Truman's actions in creating the President's Committee on Civil Rights and attempting to follow through on its recommendations were the first positive steps toward greater civil rights to take place since the Civil War, setting the stage for the civil rights movement, which followed over the next two decades.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. Print.
  • Gardner, Michael R. Harry Truman and Civil Rights: Moral Courage and Political Risks. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. Print.
  • Geselbracht, Raymond H., ed. The Civil Rights Legacy of Harry S. Truman. Kirksville: Truman State UP, 2007. Print.
  • To Secure These Rights: The Report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights. Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. Natl. Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.
  • Vaughan, Philip H. The Truman Administration's Legacy for Black America. Reseda: Mojave, 1976. Print.
Categories: History