In 1952, the Democratic Party nominated John Sparkman, an avowed segregationist, to its national ticket. Sparkman was the candidate for vice president; the Democratic candidate for president was Adlai Stevenson. The Republican party nominated Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, who favored integration and desegregation. Black voters were faced with a clear choice.
African-American groups took observable actions: the National Council of Negro Democrats endorsed Eisenhower for president. The Stevenson-Sparkman ticket was shocking to Black voters. Historians at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center write that not only was Eisenhower popular because he was a WW2 hero and projected a friendly and likeable personality, but also that
Eisenhower also cut into Stevenson’s margins in many Democratic constituencies, including African Americans, who voted in larger proportion for the President than for any Republican candidate since Herbert Hoover.
Once in office, Ike moved forward: he appointed Everett Frederic Morrow to an executive office. No Black leader had held a job at a level this high before. On July 10, 1955, the Detroit Free Press ran an AP wire story about Morrow, under the headline “White House Picks Negro for Top Spot,” stating that
He will be administrative officer of the White House “Special Projects Group” which comprises advisers to the President on foreign, economic, disarmament and other problems.
Historian Steve Neal writes that Eisenhower also “established the United States Commission on Civil Rights.” In both 1957 and in 1960, Ike moved the first two civil rights bills of the twentieth century through Congress, against opposition from Democrats like Lyndon Johnson and John Sparkman. Democratic Senator Robert Byrd also opposed the civil rights bills, and opposed desegregation and integration in any form, yet Hillary Clinton called him a “friend and mentor.” Steve Neal writes:
Eisenhower enforced the Court’s decision in sending federal troops into Little Rock, and he went on to establish a civil rights division in the Justice Department in 1957 that committed the federal government to defend the rights of minorities and provided momentum to the civil rights movement.
Eisenhower appointed another African-American, Valores James Washington, to be a top-level advisor in the White House. Given his cumbersome name, he usually asked people to refer to him as Val J. Washington, and he had also worked as one of Eisenhower’s strategists during the 1952 election. He also held various offices within the Republican Party.