On March 24, 1970, President Nixon released an extensive statement concerning the administration’s stance on ending school segregation in the South.
While the number of African American children that were enrolled in desegregated school systems had increased significantly in the Fall of 1969, nearly 75% still attended an all or majority black school.
In a memo just a week prior to President Nixon’s statement, Raymond Price, chief speechwriter, urged to be the last one to see the draft of the announcement before it would be released to the public.
The memo was sent by Price to John Ehrlichman, Assistant to the President for Domestic Affairs, who was also involved in the drafting and editing process of the statement.
In the memo, Price stressed that the issue of desegregation, particularly in the South, was a “mine-field of code words, subtleties and sensitivities” and that even minor changes to the message could run the chance of “gutting the whole statement.”
Also addressed in Price’s message to Ehrlichman, is the importance of composing a statement that is “technically right” and fully supported both legally and factually.
Three days later, on March 20, Price submitted a revised draft of the statement.
After learning that the draft was then edited by Bryce Harlow, Assistant to the President and Robert Mardian, Assistant Attorney General, Price sent a lengthy memo to President Nixon, which discussed in detail his “carefully constructed” draft.
Several of the recommendations expressed in Price’s memo, only two days before President Nixon’s address, can be seen in the official version of the statement.
P. 2 of Price’s Memo to President Nixon, March 22, 1970.
“I know there has been some urging that we should “sanitize” the history, eliminating references to those Supreme Court findings that the South didn’t like. This would be the worst sort of folly. It would destroy both the integrity and authority of the whole statement.”
President Nixon, March 24, 1970.
“To determine the present state of the law, we must first remind ourselves of the recent history of Supreme Court rulings in this area.
“This begins with the Brown case in 1954, when the Court laid down the principle that deliberate segregation of students by race in the public schools was unconstitutional…In its second Brown decision the following year, the Court addressed itself to these questions of manner and timing of compliance… The most recent decisions by the Supreme Court have now rejected any further delay, adding to the Court’s mandate: “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools (Alexander v. Holmes, Oct. 1969).”
P.3-4 of Price’s Memo to President Nixon, March 22, 1970.
“The sense of personal commitment is essential: including the commitment to enforce the law not reluctantly or evasively, but determinedly.”
President Nixon, March 24, 1970.
“…some have interpreted various administration statements and actions as a backing away from the principle of Brown and have therefore feared that the painstaking work of a decade and a half might be undermined. We are not backing away. The constitutional mandate will be enforced.
“Where it [the Supreme Court] has spoken, its decrees are the law. Where it has not spoken, where Congress has not acted, and where differing lower courts have left the issue in doubt, my responsibilities as Chief Executive make it necessary that I determine, on the basis of my best judgment, what must be done.
“I have sought to ascertain the prevailing judicial view as developed in decisions by the Supreme Court and the various circuit courts of appeals…I accept those principles and shall be guided by them. The departments and agencies of the Government will adhere to them.”