Ike’s Final Battle
In spring 1954, as the Supreme Court was deliberating on Brown v. Board of Education, President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Chief Justice Earl Warren to a stag dinner at the White House. He seated Warren at the same table as John W. Davis, the lawyer who had argued against school desegregation before the court. Eisenhower proceeded to tell the chief justice what a “great man” Davis was.
As it happened, Eisenhower had authorized his Justice Department to file an amicus brief in the case opposing Davis and public-school segregation. And he specifically allowed his solicitor general, Lee Rankin, to tell the justices during oral argument that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional. Yet he sympathized with the segregated South. “These are not bad people,” he told Warren at the dinner. “All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big, overgrown Negroes.” Warren was appalled.
“A former speechwriter for Arnold Schwarzenegger and co-author of the 2004 Republican platform, Pipes uses his insider’s perspective to look at the Eisenhower presidency in the age of desegregation. Though Pipes can fawn, he doesn’t pull punches, showing Eisenhower at his most ignoble (refusing to comfort the mother of a lynched black boy), manipulative (overtly soliciting Chief Justice Earl Warren to rule conservatively in Brown v. Board of Education) and wrongheaded (remarking that Southerners are not “bad people. All they are concerned about is to see that their sweet little girls are not required to sit in school alongside some big overgrown Negroes”). Pipes argues, however, that such examples belie the President’s complex and ultimately fortuitous take on the situation: personally sympathetic with blacks, Ike nevertheless felt that the government couldn’t legislate morality and favored gradual integration, frustrating black rights champions like Thurgood Marshall but helping to defuse the increasingly volatile mood of the country. When the chips were down, of course, Eisenhower defended the ruling without hesitation, famously sending in the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock when Arkansas’s governor refused to integrate. An unflattering reminiscence of a difficult time in American politics, Pipes’s book nevertheless reminds readers how far the country has come.”
“The nation liked Ike because it saw so much of itself in him. Like the nation when it was forced to face its racial dilemma, Eisenhower also had to face the tension between his unanalyzed assumptions and the better angels of his nature. How he struggled to do so is a fascinating story, sensitively told by Kasey S. Pipes. This mind-opening book shows that Eisenhower’s coming-to-terms with the coming civil rights revolution was, like the man himself, more complex and admirable than has hitherto been appreciated.”
–George F. Will, syndicated columnist
“Beginning with the Battle of the Bulge, Dwight Eisenhower breached the rules limiting opportunities for black servicemen to serve. As President, he fought an internal battle, educating himself even as he educated his countrymen on their moral obligations. At Little Rock he upheld simple decency in the face of mob rule. Simultaneously he pressed for enactment of the first major civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. None of this was easy, and little about Ike was as simple as it appeared on the surface. Kasey S. Pipes takes us further beneath that surface than anyone has to date. His portrait of an incrementalist caught up in a social and legal revolution is groundbreaking, and almost painfully intimate. It is also a hugely important contribution to our understanding of Eisenhower, America in the Fifties, and ourselves.â€
–Senator Robert J. Dole
“Just in time for the 50th anniversary, Kasey Pipes has written a fascinating and balanced story of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock from the perspective of President Eisenhower. Kasey’s work will add new and critical perspective on Ike and establishes Kasey as a gifted storyteller and thoughtful historian.”–Ken Mehlman, former RNC Chairman
“Besides being a unique contribution to our understanding of the relationship between one of the great figures of the mid twentieth century and perhaps the centuryâ€™s most important social issue, Pipes has given us a lively narrative that brings the general and the people around him into sharp and entertaining focus. For anyone interested in civil rights, or recent American history or for anyone just interested in a good read, this is a book not to be missed.”
–Dr. Jack McCallum, author of “Leonard Wood: Rough Rider, Surgeon, Architect of American Imperialism”