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Gerald Ford Defends His Early Commitment to Civil Rights
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This fascinating letter by freshman Congressman and future president Gerald R. Ford to a Catholic college president in Michigan defends his early record on civil rights legislation.

Personally, I have lived by and believe in the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity regardless of race, color or creed. I am in favor of such a policy for all citizens and will cooperate to accomplish that objective by the most practical and effective methods.

GERALD R. FORD. Typed Letter Signed, to Arthur F. Bukowski, January 28, 1950, Washington, D.C. 2 pp., 8 x 10½ in. On Ford’s Congressional letterhead.

Inventory #26024       Price: $1,200


I have your telegram referring to the proposed FEPC legislation and the basic issue of civil rights legislation generally. At the outset, let me apologize for failing to respond as promptly as I would like, but in the last week the House of Representatives has been in constant parliamentary turmoil and as a result I have been unable to attend to my correspondence.

Personally, I have lived by and believe in the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity regardless of race, color or creed. I am in favor of such a policy for all citizens and will cooperate to accomplish that objective by the most practical and effective methods.

Since my election, on the legislative level I have voted for the anti-poll tax proposal and also supported the anti-discrimination amendment to a Coast Guard auxiliary bill.... In the future I expect to favor anti-lynching legislation if and when it comes to the floor of the House for consideration and in the meantime I will favor any other sound legislative proposals aimed at correcting basic inequalities in our country.

...all measures should have a fair hearing on the House floor. I now hope that Speaker Rayburn will not, for any purpose, - political or otherwise, abuse this wide authority and discretion. I am willing and anxious to be recorded on any and all proposals and I do not want the Committee on Rules or Mr. Rayburn to deny me that opportunity.

The so-called Powell bill as reported out of committee, goes too far too soon. It is my understanding that certain amendments will be offered to the Powell bill which will modify it to conform to what is a practical approach at the present time. If certain amendments are approved by the House, I will favor the legislation on final passage.”

In the meantime, it behooves all of us to cooperate with all individuals and groups who are sincerely attempting to remedy all injustices that presently exist.


Historical Background

Congressman Gerald R. Ford Jr. won election to represent Michigan’s 5th district, located in the western part of the lower peninsula, in November 1948 and took office in January 1949.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Fair Employment Practice Committee (FEPC) in 1941 to implement his executive order banning racial discrimination in employment by federal agencies and all companies engaged in war-related work. With the end of World War II, Congress ordered the FEPC to cease operations by June 1946. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman sent a civil rights package to Congress that called for a permanent FEPC to address institutionalized racism in employment, but Congress refused to pass it.

In this letter, Ford expresses his hope that Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (1882-1961), a longtime Democrat from Texas, would allow civil rights bills to come to the floor of the House for discussion. He also refers to a bill introduced by Democratic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1908-1972) of New York. Powell’s bill would revive the FEPC and had the support of the Truman administration. It prohibited employers of more than fifty persons and labor unions with more than fifty members in any industry engaged in interstate commerce from discriminating in employment or membership based on race, religion, color, national origin, or ancestry. Republican Senator Robert A. Taft (1889-1953) of Ohio favored a voluntary FEPC that could identify discriminatory practices and make recommendations to eliminate them but could not enforce its decisions. Republican Congressman Samuel K. McConnell Jr. (1901-1985) of Pennsylvania introduced a similar bill in the House as a substitute for Powell’s bill.

On February 23, 1950, the House passed McConnell’s substitute a fair employment practices bill by a vote of 221 to 178. Supporting the McConnell alternative were 117 Democrats, mostly southerners, and 104 Republicans (including Ford), while opponents included 128 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and one Labor Party Congressman. After the House approved this “voluntary” FEPC, Senators from the South filibustered and prevented the bill from passing. The FEPC never became a permanent government agency, though the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), established in 1965, would later perform some of the same functions.


Gerald R. Ford Jr. (1913-2006) was born Leslie Lynch King Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska, but his parents divorced months after his birth, and he grew up in Michigan. His mother married Gerald Rudolff Ford in 1916, and she renamed her son after her new husband. Ford did not legally change his name until 1935. He became an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1935 and from Yale Law School in 1941. Ford served in the U.S. Naval Reserve and U.S. Navy during World War II. Returning to Michigan, he became active in Republican politics and won election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948. He served in Congress from 1949 to 1973, the last nine years as House Minority Leader. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Ford as one of nine members of the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in October 1973, Ford became Vice President to President Richard M. Nixon. Ten months later, Nixon resigned, and Ford became President. He narrowly lost reelection to Jimmy Carter in 1976.


Arthur F. Bukowski (1906-1989) was born in Michigan and attended St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids. He completed graduate work at the Catholic University of America in Washington and was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1933. In 1934, he joined the administration of Catholic Junior College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, as a dean. He served as president of the college, renamed Aquinas College in 1940, from 1937 to 1969. Pope Pius XII designated Bukowski as a papal chamberlain with the title of very reverend monsignor in 1948. Bukowski chaired the Michigan Committee on Civil Rights and served on the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Committee. He resigned as president to do missionary work in Berea, Kentucky, and in Guatemala. In 1971, he joined the faculty of St. Joseph Seminary.


Condition: Expected paper folds and uneven toning on the first page. Very good to near fine.

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