Monday, January 20, 2014

William Moore McCulloch: An Unsung Hero of Civil Rights

William Moore McCulloch (November 24, 1901–February 22, 1980) was a conservative Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio.

As the ranking member of the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee, William McCulloch took a leading role in the civil rights movement. He introduced Civil Rights legislation months before Kennedy presented his act to congress. This was not only politically imprudent, but some considered it to be political suicide. Representative McCulloch had a small number of African-American constituents, and thus few votes to gain from introducing or supporting civil rights legislation. Regardless of the possible political ramifications, Representative McCulloch fought to repair an unjust system.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a path to justice for a nation that had allowed injustice for so long. It was his political and moral guidance that quelled anti-civil rights sentiments from members of the committee. McCulloch’s influence with the 1964 Civil Rights Act led President Kennedy to declare “Without him it can’t be done.”

Congressman William McCulloch never shirked from responsibility. In fact, he rose to become recognized by President Johnson as “…the most important and powerful political force” in passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Throughout his career, McCulloch was a conservative (demonstrated by low Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) scores) and a strong supporter of civil rights. As ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, he, with Democratic Chairman Emanuel Celler, pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the House of Representatives. During the Great Society Congress, although he supported Johnson's civil rights programs, he opposed most Great Society legislation. After the Great Society Congress (1965–1966), he began to adopt a few liberal positions, such as favoring strong gun control legislation in 1968 and support for busing. He was not a candidate for reelection in the 1972 election to the Ninety-third Congress. He resumed the practice of law in Piqua, Ohio, and died in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 1980. Interment in Arlington National Cemetery.

In early 2010, McCulloch was proposed by the Ohio Historical Society as a finalist in a statewide vote for inclusion in Statuary Hall at the United States Capitol.

An Unsung Hero of Civil Rights

Somewhere in all this worthy commemoration we should pause to pay homage to a conservative white Republican named William Moore McCulloch. Never heard of him? Neither had I. But there is a good case to be made that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have become law without him. And there is a very good case to be made that Washington desperately needs his example today.

From The New York Times: