Obamacare: New Fight, Old TacticsRoundup: Historians' Take
tags: health care reform
Nelson Lichtenstein teaches history at UC Santa Barbara, where he directs the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy.
Last month, Americans took pride in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Unfortunately, we are also revisiting a far darker episode in our history, a civil rights-era conflict that tells us much about the hurdles facing President Obama's Affordable Care Act, the most ambitious piece of social legislation enacted in almost half a century.
That episode was the "massive resistance," a policy pushed by a phalanx of Southern white politicians, journalists and local worthies who organized in the 1950s and early '60s when the courts, the federal government and the civil rights movement pressed for desegregation of public schools and the end of Jim Crow racism in American life. Rather than consent to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which ordered an end to segregation in public schools, Southern governors and legislatures declared that they would refuse to implement the law and, if necessary, close schools. Their policy would later extend to efforts to shut down pools, parks and other public facilities that courts had ordered integrated.
In Congress, the Southern delegation stood firm against federal action in support of civil rights. Across the South billboards went up: "Impeach Earl Warren," the chief justice who presided over the court's 9-0 decision in the landmark 1954 case....