Since its inception in 1957, the United States Commission on Civil Rights has been at the forefront of efforts by the Federal Government and state governments to examine and resolve issues related to race, ethnicity, religion and, more recently, sexual orientation. Although the fortunes of the Commission have ebbed and flowed with changes in presidential administrations, the Commission has continued to be a vital part of the effort to build an America that is truly equal. By providing access to the historical record of this important federal agency, the Thurgood Marshall Law Library will offer scholars an opportunity to examine the efforts of the Commission more closely.
In conjunction with the Thurgood Marshall Law Library's strategic plan to enhance its civil rights collection in support of the School of Law's teaching and research mission, the Library has worked since 2001 to create a complete electronic record of United States Commission on Civil Rights publications held in the Library's collection and available on the USCCR Web site. The publications are made available over the Internet as page image presentations in PDF format. Each item is linked from the appropriate bibliographic record in the Catalog. Publications are also searchable by keyword and accessible by date, title and SuDoc number.
Document conversion for this project is supported in part through the Ryan Easley Memorial Fund.
In 2005 the Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights partnered with the Library of Congress' BEAT project to provide access to USCCR publications via the "Web Access to Works in the Public Domain" initiative.
Read more about the origins of the project in the March 2004 AALL Spectrum.
TMLL has identified additional readings that may be of value to researchers using this site. Researchers are urged to check the Catalog for access to Congressional hearings, CRS reports, GAO reports, and other government reports dealing with the Commission. Additional resources about the Commission may be located on GPO Access.
Until 2009 there had been only one book-length administrative history of the United States Commission on Civil Rights The Civil Rights Commission: 1957-1965 by Foster Rhea Dulles (1968) but that changed with the publication of And Justice for All: The United States Commission on Civil Rights and the Continuing Struggle for Freedom in America by former Commission Chair, Mary Frances Berry. There are also several very valuable articles about the Commission. By far the most complete analysis of the Commission in its early years can be found in Jocelyn C. Frye and others' "The Rise and Fall of the Civil Rights Commission," Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, volume 22, number 2 (Spring, 1987). A more recent work, focused on the work of a specific state advisory body, is Donald Cunnigen's "The Mississippi State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1960-65," The Journal of Mississippi History, volume 53, number 1 (1991). In March of 2005, in preparation for a Congressional hearing, staff members of the House Judiciary Committee assembled a detailed legislative history of the Commission.
Two contemporary accounts of the Commission provide an understanding how the community reacted to the Commission's early hearings and how members of the Commission viewed their role in the 1960s. They are: Robert Anderson, Jr.'s excellent piece on a 1968 Alabama hearing, "At the Hearings: An American Microcosm," New South, volume 23, number 2 (Spring, 1968); and Theodore Hesburgh's "Integer Vitae: Independence of the United States Commission on Civil Rights," Notre Dame Lawyer, volume 46, number 3 (Spring, 1971).
The independence of the Commission - along with the Commission's ability to define its procedures - was at the core of one of the few U.S. Supreme Court Cases to which the Commission was a party: Hannah v. Larche, 363 U.S. 420 (1960). The independence of the United States Commission on Civil Rights has always been a concern for presidents and Congress, and during the administration of President Reagan, it reached a critical juncture. The history of this political war of wills is best summarized in "Civil Rights Commission Reconstituted," CQ Almanac, volume 39, page 292 (1983).
Despite the efforts of the Reagan White House, the Commission continues to be an important voice for the disenfranchised. For example, in 1991 the Commission urged then President Bush and the leading Democratic contenders for the presidential nomination to forego "playing the race card" in political advertising (see Arch Parsons, "In the Game of Politics, Some want to Outlaw Playing the Race Card," Baltimore Sun, Sunday, July 28, 1991). More recently the Commission has taken steps to respond to voting irregularities in the 2000 Presidential elections (see Robert Pierre, "Botched Name Purge Denied Some the Right to Vote," Washington Post, Thursday, May 31, 2001) and to forestall incidents of bias-related crimes against Muslims and Arab-Americans in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (see Carol Sottili, "Middle Eastern Profiling," Washington Post, Sunday - Travel, October 7, 2001). Since the advent of the second administration of George W. Bush the Commission has again been embroiled in internal strife. In a not unexpected move President Bush replaced the long serving Commission Chair Mary Frances Berry with Republican Gerald A. Reynolds. In March of 2005 Commission member Russell Redenbaugh, an "independent" conservative, resigned from the Commission while calling for the USCCR to be abolished because of the way that the Commission has spent funds and pursued partisan agendas, both liberal and conservative (see Darryl Fears, "Member of Civil Rights Panel Quits, Says it Should be Closed," Washington Post, Wednesday, March 16, 2005). This in turn has prompted calls in Congress for hearings to once again reevaluate the role and future of the Commission. [text: Bill Sleeman]