Sheldon Richman: Rand Paul was Right about the Civil Rights Act

Roundup: Talking About History

[Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman. He lives near Little Rock, Arkansas.]

Fresh from his victory in last week’s Kentucky Republican senatorial primary, Rand Paul found himself caught in a whirlwind when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act properly outlawed racial segregation at privately owned lunch counters. Speaking circuitously if not evasively, Mr. Paul finally said:

“[O]ne of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized. But that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”

So although he supports striking down segregationist state Jim Crow laws, he objected to Title II of the Act, outlawing racial discrimination in “public accommodations.” “Had I been around I would have tried to modify that,” he said.

However, after a torrent of media and blogospheric criticism, he changed course, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I would have voted yes…. I think that there was an overriding problem in the South, so big that it did require federal intervention in the sixties.”

Which Rand Paul had it right?

The first one. Had he known and related the full story, he could have avoided the metamorphosis.

I write as a libertarian, something Rand Paul claims not to be. The essence of the libertarian philosophy is that each person owns him- or herself and whatever belongings he or she honestly acquires. Thus individuals are due freedom of association and, logically, non-association. It also follows that the owner of property should be free to set the rules of use, the only constraint being that the owner may not use aggressive force against others.

Admittedly, that leaves room for loathsome peaceful behavior, such as running a whites-only lunch counter. Who imagined that freedom of association couldn’t have its ugly side?...

But we don’t need to imagine it. We can consult history. Lunch counters throughout the South were integrating years – years! – before the civil rights bill was passed. It happened not out of the goodness of the racists’ hearts – they had to be dragged, metaphorically, kicking and screaming. It was the result of an effective nongovernment social movement.

Starting in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960, lunch counters throughout the South began to be desegregated through direct but peaceful confrontation – sit-ins – staged by courageous students and others who refused to accept humiliating second-class citizenship. Four years before the Civil Rights Act passed, lunch counters in downtown Nashville were integrated within four months of the launch of the Nashville Student Movement’s sit-in campaign.

Students were beaten and jailed, but they won the day, Gandhi-style, by shaming the bigots with their simple request to be served like anyone else. The sit-ins then sparked sympathy boycotts of department stores nationwide. The campaign wasn’t easy, but people seized control of their own lives, shook their communities, and sent shockwaves through the country. State and city governments were far slower to respond.

Why is this inspirational history ignored in the current controversy? I can think of only one reason. So-called progressives at heart are elitists who believe – and want you to believe – that nothing good happens without government....

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Lawyer With HistoryMA - 5/27/2010

How revealing that you as a libertarian PRETEND to be "okay" on all those sit-ins, when ... all of the sit-ins involved trespassing on private property (i.e., violation of property rights, which you hold most dear) and -- usually -- arrests for trespassing.

The hypocrisy of your position is embarrassing, but libertarians (i.e., conservatives who pretend not to be) hate admitting same.

Oh, well . . . .