Nation: End of Reconstruction

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End of Persecution. The cumulative psychological impact of the measures, however, plus the firing of Panetta, delighted segregationists. "The lamp of liberty shines brighter," triumphantly announced Mississippi's Governor John Bell Williams. Echoed Georgia's Lester Maddox: "I'm really thrilled by this." Replied the Urban League's Whitney Young: "We are in the throes of a systematic destruction of all the gains made in the 1960s." There was a sense that a new corner had been turned, that a different standard of ethics was operating, that the new trend would continue. Tallahassee's Judge G. Harrold Carswell seemed relatively certain of Senate confirmation, and Southerners believed that with more vacancies to come as septuagenarian Justices depart, "strict constructionism" will be well represented. If HEW's power continues to sink, the administrative push needed to enforce the law in individual cases will suffer accordingly.

Southern conservatives were encouraged to think that what they consider their long persecution had ended. The Stennis amendment declares that the guilt of segregation is nationwide —which is certainly true—and so the penalties for failing to desegregate must apply to Northern cities, with their ghettos, as well as the South. Connecticut's liberal Senator Abraham Ribicoff astonished both segregationists and civil rights advocates by agreeing with Stennis and backing the amendment. Doing so, Ribicoff broke the liberal lines and introduced a new logic.

Co-opting Wallace. The idea of Stennis' amendment is formally correct. Morally, there should be no distinction between the legally established dual educational systems of the South and the school segregation of the North, usually resulting, de facto, from housing patterns. Yet the idea is also subversive. The de facto separation of the North has still not been declared unconstitutional by the courts. Assaulting it across the board would represent a virtually impossible enforcement problem in many cities, whereas the de jure segregation of the South could legally be broken down. If the Stennis amendment became official policy, it would stretch the Justice Department's enforcement resources so thin that desegregation would be markedly slowed down. The Stennis-Ribicoff logic suggests that school integration cannot occur unless and until all U.S. society changes—so that the classroom would become not the first but the last place to integrate. If anything is to change according to this formula, integration must occur in such fields as jobs and housing—and it remains in doubt what the backers of the Stennis amendment are willing to do about that. To proclaim sectional equality in order to preserve racial inequality has become at once Southern strategy, liberal confusion and a kind of moral Catch-22.

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