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The first history in forty years of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Mary Frances Berry—a member of the commission for more than twenty years and chairperson for more than a decade—describes its founding in 1957 by President Eisenhower, in response to the burgeoning civil rights protest. She makes clear that, from the outset, the commission was designed to be an independent bipartisan federal agency—beholden to no government body—with full subpoena power, free to decide what to investigate and report on.We seehowreluctant witnesses overcame fear of reprisal, courageously coming forward with their testimony; how various hearings and reports were instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965; how Congress added the overseeing of discriminating practices—with regard to sex, age, and disability—to the commission’s jurisdiction, which helped in the passage of the Age Discrimination Act of 1978 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. We see how each president dealt with the commission; how Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush fired commissioners over policy disagreements; and how, under pressure from Bush, commissioners began to downplay the need to remedy discrimination.
Finally, Dr. Berry makes an impassioned and convincing argument for a reconfigured commission—fully independent, and with an expanded mandate that would allow it to oversee the preservation of all human rights.