Research on Senate Obstruction of Civil Rights Legislation

I am collecting research papers on the Senate delaying & obstructing civil rights legislation in the 1950's & 60's. Please share in the comments in case of any articles or papers which talk about this.

Civil Rights Obstruction in the Senate, 1938 to 1964: The Role of the Republican Party

In the generation before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the United States Senate played a uniquely obstructionist role at the national level, serving as a bulwark in the South’s defense of white supremacy. After presenting evidence for this claim, this paper turns to an examination of one aspect of the Senate’s defense of white supremacy, exploring the extent to which the Republican Party provided allies for the South. A comprehensive dataset of significant Senate roll calls on civil rights between 1938 and 1964 is analyzed to arbitrate among three competing views of the Republican Party’s relationship to racial policy in the middle decades of the twentieth century: that the Republican Party was an enduring ally of the South in its defense of white supremacy; that, to the contrary, the Republican Party was, like the non-southern members of the Democratic Party, moderately supportive of civil rights throughout the period; or third, that over the course of these 25 years the Republican Party’s action moved from those concordant with the second view to those more like the first. The evidence that emerges from the roll-call dataset is most consistent with the third view. The paper closes by considering the implications of these findings for our understanding of party alignments on racial policy in the twentieth century.


Contrary to many historical accounts that depict white resistance to civil rights legislation in the United States Senate as relying exclusively on filibusters and overt racism, southern senators followed a more moderate approach in the late 1930s when they realized that civil rights activism would continue until Jim Crow collapsed. Adopting a tactic of strategic delay that enabled them to thwart civil rights advances for decades, they granted minor concessions on bills only tangentially related to civil rights and emasculated more substantive measures, rather than always utilizing the filibuster. The level of northern support for a given civil rights proposal dictated which approach southerners employed. As southern senators altered their legislative strategy to counter greater public support for civil rights, they also transformed their arguments, crafting their claims to appeal to northerners. Southern senators linked their defense of segregation with the nation’s founding principles and depicted themselves as the guarantors of the federal system as defined by the Revolutionary generation. At the same time, they limited the use of overt racism that had formerly served as their primary defense of segregation.

The Art of the Possible: Everett Dirksen’s Role in Civil Rights Legislation of the 1950s and 1960s

Unable to secure enfranchisement and equality for African Americans through the executive and judicial branches, civil rights proponents turned to the legislative branch in the 1950s and 1960s. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is often criticized as a weak compromise that lacked definitive power but it was very important because it demonstrated that it was possible to pass civil rights legislation. Southern congressmen and senators prevented any legislation from passing for decades due to their domination of powerful committees and their use of the filibuster. The 1957 act showed cracks in the system. There was another civil rights act in 1960 but southern opponents restricted its scope through the use of the filibuster. Civil rights proponents in Congress learned through these experiences that if they intended to pass meaningful legislation, they had to overcome the filibuster.