22. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Rowan) to President Johnson 1

SUBJECT

  • Foreign Reaction to Senate Passage of Civil Rights Bill 2

USIA has just completed a study dealing with foreign reaction to the Senate passage of the civil rights bill.3

Non-Communist editors universally and extensively acclaimed the event as marking an historic advance. Acclaim is accompanied by warnings that passage of the legislation will not immediately or easily bring equality for the Negro and expectations of continued bitter strife and resistance are widespread.

Along with cautions against expectation of immediate results are some hopes that strife will henceforth be moderated. The long debate heightened attention to the racial question and increased the dramatic impact of the Senate’s action. Tribute is paid to your skill, courage, and authority in bringing about the bill’s passage.

Commentators viewed the passage as the most important step forward in the American Negro’s struggle for equality since the Emancipation Proclamation;4 as a “victory” that will “shape the future of the United States”; as a “turning point” in American history; as enhancing the international influence of the United States, especially among the non-white and newly-independent nations; and as reinforcing the moral authority of the United States and its dedication to freedom and social justice.

Soviet treatment has sought to downplay the importance of the Senate’s action, stressing the “immense distance” between the legislation and its realization, predicting the continuance of racial clashes and [Page 62] high-lighting current racial difficulties. No comment from Peking or other Communist areas in the Far East is available.

A summary of regional comment follows:

Western Europe

Senate passage of the civil rights bill received prominent news coverage in Western Europe and, especially in Britain, Scandinavia and Austria, extensive editorial comment as well. Material currently available indicates that, with a few prominent exceptions, French and West German reaction has not been so extensive. Most see the Senate action as a turning point in U.S. history and give credit to you and President Kennedy. At the same time, the majority is either skeptical or pessimistic over prospects for peaceful and early acceptance of the measure.

Africa

The African press has responded to Senate passage of the civil rights bill with prominent coverage and enthusiastic comment. Papers in seven African countries described the bill as a major step forward in the Negroes’ drive for equality but recognized that the bill’s passage did not mean the end of racial discrimination in America. While editors censured Messrs. Goldwater, Faubus, and Wallace for impeding racial progress, they praised the American people, the U.S. Senate, and you and President Kennedy for your combined efforts in achieving victory. The U.S. was seen as implementing its democratic principles.

Near East and South Asia

Commentators in widely separate centers in both the Near East and South Asia generally regard the passage of the Senate civil rights bill as an historic turning point in the battle for equal opportunity in the United States. Some papers see the measure as a memorial to the late President Kennedy, while others credit your Administration. Most temper their praise, however, by warning that enforcement problems are apt to dilute the full effect of the legislation.

Far East

The Far East press enthusiastically applauded the Senate passage of the civil rights bill. Editorially, the action was welcomed as certain to improve the U.S. image abroad and as a badly needed answer to Communist charges of officially-sanctioned racial persecution in the United States. While only a few editorialists in the area expressed fear that the bill might lead to increased civil rights strife, a number noted that the legislation in itself was not enough and needed popular support and cooperation. The bill was generally described as a monument to the late President Kennedy and a political triumph for you.

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Latin America

The Latin American press has given wire service news treatment to the Senate’s passage of the civil rights bill. In addition there was substantial editorial comment for a few days. The tone of the comment was almost universally favorable and laudatory. The principal theme has been the resultant enhancing of the international prestige of the U.S. and the influence the law-to-be will have on the rest of the world.

Soviet Union

Senate passage of the civil rights bill drew a considerable volume of Soviet commentary attempting to minimize the importance of the legislation, although Pravda and several other newspapers have ignored the event. Moscow Radio immediately broadcast a brief, factual account of the vote to both foreign and domestic audiences. The follow-up TASS dispatch from Washington outlined the many hurdles the bill had overcome before passage and concluded that while “racists” had suffered a defeat in Congress, they would continue to struggle in their home states against implementation of the law. Occasionally conceding that passage of the civil rights bill marks “a certain success” for the struggle of American Negroes for equal rights, the Soviet press and radio have continued to spotlight incidents such as those in St. Augustine.

A copy of the USIA report is attached.5

Carl T. Rowan 6
  1. Source: Johnson Library, White House Central Files, Subject Files, Foreign Affairs, EX FO Box FO–1, FO 6/1/64–7/10/64. No classification marking. The President initialed the memorandum in the top right-hand corner.
  2. The Senate passed the Civil Rights Act (P.L. 88–367; 78 Stat 241) on June 19; the President signed it into law on July 2. For text of the President’s remarks on signing the Act, see Public Papers: Johnson, 1963–1964, Book II, pp. 842–844.
  3. Attached but not printed is report R–89–64, entitled “Foreign Reaction to Senate Passage of the Civil Rights Bill,” June 25, prepared in USIA’s Research and Reference Service.
  4. Reference is to the proclamation made by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, in which he declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforth shall be free.”
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. Rowan signed “Carl” above this typed signature.