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A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 4, 2007

4.7 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, September 4, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly

Former professor Nichols (Lincoln and the Indians) spotlights President Eisenhower's efforts to eliminate discrimination within the definite areas of Federal responsibility, aiming to end the myth that Eisenhower was personally and politically opposed to the enactment and enforcement of civil rights legislation. Nichols builds his argument on Eisenhower's actions: desegregation of the District of Columbia and the armed forces, as well as his support of justice Earl Warren and use of the military to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education decision. He attributes skepticism about Eisenhower's motives to the president's restrained rhetorical style, arguing that Eisenhower's embrace of a traditional interpretation of the separation of powers led to his silences. That he was a gradualist and shared misconceptions about black people common to white politicians of his era may have played a role as well. That he called firmly for obedience to law... yet undermined that demand by asserting how little law could accomplish certainly diminished his civil rights reputation. Nichols takes potshots at Harry Truman and Warren, attributes Lyndon Johnson's actions to his presidential ambitions and John F. Kennedy's promises of progress to campaign rhetoric, giving this otherwise balanced study an opinionated bent. B&w photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Eisenhower is one of the unsung heroes of the quest for civil rights and racial justice, and David Nichols captures the essence of his quiet leadership in this compelling, well-researched, and judicious book. Fifty years after his deft handling of the Little Rock crisis, Eisenhower gets his due in this important and readable work."

-- Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein: His Life and Universe

"A Matter of Justice is superb. This generation needs to appreciate just what President Eisenhower did to bring about a major revolution in this country, especially in his appointment of Earl Warren and great federal judges in the South. Few recognize the difficult decision he had to make in putting federal troops into Little Rock, but that action made the difference in the success of school desegregation."

-- William T. Coleman, Jr., co-author of the Brown v. Board of Education brief and former Secretary of Transportation

"This is revisionist history at its best -- provocative yet unbiased. With anyone else in the White House during the 1950s, the civil rights movement would have emerged more slowly. Nichols's brisk account is also a terrific character study of Eisenhower as a misunderstood but effective politician."

-- Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

"A Matter of Justice is a fascinating and important book. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Eisenhower administration presided over major civil rights advances, paving the way for the better-known breakthroughs of the 1960s. David Nichols vividly narrates this crucial but hitherto unappreciated aspect of the civil rights revolution."

-- Fred I. Greenstein, author of The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader

"David Nichols makes a fascinating and persuasive case that President Eisenhower, for all his rhetorical flubs, made great contributions to the advance of civil rights. Deeds, not words, as Nichols puts it."

-- Anthony Lewis, former New York Times columnist and author of Gideon's Trumpet

"David Nichols has mastered the last frontier of Eisenhower revisionism -- civil rights. A Matter of Justice is a triumph."

-- Daun van Ee, editor of The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower

"David A. Nichols has written an important, revealing book about Eisenhower's extensive civil rights record. A Matter of Justice will be indispensable to future Eisenhower biographers."

-- James F. Simon, Martin Professor of Law at New York Law School and author of Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416541500
  • ASIN: B0044KMU7S
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,254,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel Bent on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
A friend highly recommended this book. He told me that it gave him high respect for Eisenhower and his Attorney General, Herb Brownell.
Having read quite a bit of Civil Rights history and several biographies of Dwight Eisenhower, I thought I knew the Eisenhower's record on Civil Right. Wrong!
The author David A. Nichols, a history professor, was unknown to me before reading his A Matter of Justice. He did a superb job of providing detailed and extensive notes which gave me as a reader a great respect for the extent of his research and his perserverance in writing this book.
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A Master of Justice by David A. Nichols reexamines the civil rights record of our 34th president Dwight D. Eisenhower. The author discusses the need to reexamine the record on civil rights as much of it is attributed to presidents Truman, JFK, and LBJ. The author goes into detail about his, at one time, own bias against the president and how many notable biographies/historians (like Arthur Schlesinger and Stephen Ambrose) argue that Eisenhower was a "moral failure" on civil rights. Nichols shows that that view is wrong/distorted and how this view is generated by our political bias (Republican vs. Democrat mentality), and our "sound bite" culture in which we judge by "public utterances" and ignore all other evidence. The author stated that this view of "moral failure" is held by Eisenhower because he "detested political demagoguery" and instead focused on action (not rhetoric). Nichols book is an interesting examination of the Eisenhower record on civil rights and documents all of his achievements and shortcomings with the understanding that Eisenhower deserves more attention to his civil rights record.

The first few chapters focus on Eisenhower's early civil rights fights beginning during WW2 and the integration of the military to his early appointments of desegregation leaders among his cabinet when elected president. During the war (WW2) Eisenhower pushed for the integration of black combat troops on the front lines, etc. (they were usually used for logistical support and given the worse jobs). When elected president, Eisenhower was committed to the ending of segregation where his authority permitted (military, federal jobs/contracts, and Washington D.C.).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
David Nichols' work on Eisenhower's support for the cause of civil rights, as the blurbs on the back cover indicate, advances the historical record. Eisenhower's view was that the best way to advance the cause of civil rights was through action rather than oratory. This approach to government was a consistent theme of Eisenhower's modus operandi as reflected in Fred Grenstein's ground breaking work. While Nichols enhances Eisenhower's civil rights record by calling attention both to his actions and his public and private comments, he also acknowledges Eisenhower could have (should have?) used the bully pulpit of the presidency more in support of the first Brown decision and the civil rights movements. Nichols lays much of the blame for southern resistence to Brown I to the Court's timidity in its enforcement decision, Brown II, and claims that Eisenhower also was disappointed in Brown II.

Eisenhower, whatever his motives and modus operandi, can be faulted for failing to recognize that a bully pulpit was needed in the aftermath of Brown I and that his overly legalistic and above the board approach stroked southern resistence. The repercussions of not using stronger rhetoric during his presidency caused ripples which reverberate today. While Eisenhower may have provided leadership, he failed to use all the tools of the presidency, including the bully pulpit, to provide moral leadership.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book to be quite educational. It reviews the situation at the time and Ike's past and places his actions in perspective. Neither fawning nor overly flattering, it give a clear view of a decent but conflicted man of the times. The evolution of Ike's moral compass was very well presented. In light of the recent election campaigns, it presents some important history.
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As one who vividly remembers Eisenhower's influence on the Civil Rights Movement, especially Central High at Little Rock when he sent in troops, I find this book to be a fascinating and accurate recounting of what many people have forgotten. Some seem to think that the Civil Rights Movement started with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. They forget that Eisenhower was not only a great general, but a great President. This book is a must read!
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This book demolishes the myth I grew up learning that Eisenhower did nothing on civil rights and did not even care for the issue. Teachers, textbooks, and professors all told me he did not believe in civil rights, he regretted nominating Earl Warren to the Supreme Court, and the like. I remember seeing Herblock cartoons of an oblivious, avuncular, dunder-headed Ike watching and doing nothing as the US burned.


Why did I learn all this? Part of the reason is the liberal meta-narrative that Democrats equal good, Republicans equal bad. The myth that civil rights was pushed by Dems and not Reps. This book destroys liberal pieties like "Truman desegregated the military." Bull. He issued an executive order and reaped all the historical benevolence. Eisenhower actually desegregated the military. Then, he desegregated military hospitals, VA facilities, military schools, and schools in towns near military installations. Then he desegregated Washington. DC (a town officially segregated by progressive icon, and all-around racist, Woodrow Wilson). Part of the reason is Eisenhower did all of this quietly. That was his leadership style: look like you're doing nothing, take no credit.

The truth in this book: Eisenhower was very concerned with civil rights, very involved in making progress on the issue, and doing, not talking. Eisenhower was not a bystander on the Brown decision, he pushed it. Eisenhower was not a bystander on sending troops to Little Rock, he pushed it. Ditto, ditto, et cetera, et cetera. He pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1960. Who degraded and denuded those two laws? The sainted LBJ. Who comes across in this book as he should: a political piece of s@%t, who only did things to further his career, instead of doing what was right.

The book reads quickly, is meticulously endnoted, and thoroughly researched. A must read.
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