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James Eastland

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James Eastland
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James Eastland

James Oliver Eastland (November 28, 1904February 19, 1986) was an American politician from Mississippi who served in the U.S. Senate briefly in 1941 and again from 1943 to 1978. He served in many different capacities, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (19561978) and President pro Tempore of the Senate (19721979).

A Democrat, Eastland was first appointed to the Senate in 1941 following the death of Senator Pat Harrison, but did not run in the special election for the seat later in the year; it was won by Wall Doxey. In 1942, however, Eastland was elected to the same seat for a full term.

In the Senate, Eastland, like Harry F. Byrd, earned a reputation as a vociferous opponent of the civil rights movement and a supporter of Jim Crow laws. When the three civil rights workers Mickey Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman went missing in Mississippi on June 21, 1964, he reportedly told President Lyndon Johnson that the incident was a hoax and there was no Ku Klux Klan in the state, surmising that the three had gone to Chicago, Illinois. As such, he was portrayed in the Hollywood version of the incident, Mississippi Burning. The judge in the Mississippi Burning trial (United States versus Cecil Price et al.) was Judge William Cox, who was a former college roommate of Eastland at the University of Mississippi. Eastland served as a director of the infamous Pioneer Fund, a foundation dedicated to improving the race.

When the United States Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas 347 US 483 1954 was delivered Eastland denounced it, saying,

"On May 17, 1954, the Constitution of the United States was destroyed because of the Supreme Court's decision. You are not obliged to obey the decisions of any court which are plainly fraudulent [and based on] sociological considerations."
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James Eastland

Eastland was an ally of Joseph McCarthy and served on the Committee investigating many Americans' connections to the Communist Party. In fact, he and Barry Goldwater were friends and colleagues of McCarthy. Even after McCarthy was discredited, Eastland tried to press the issue. Using his power as chairman of the Internal Security Subcommittee, he subpoenaed a number of employees of The New York Times, which was at the time taking a strong position on its editorial page that Mississippi should adhere to the Brown decision. The Times was not intimidated. Its January 5 1956 editorial read in part:

"Our faith is strong that long after Senator Eastland and his present subcommittee are gone, long after segregation has lost its final battle in the South, long after all that was known as McCarthyism is a dim, unwelcome memory, long after the last Congressional committee has learned that it cannot tamper successfully with a free press, The New York Times will be speaking for (those) who make it, and only for (those) who make it, and speaking, without fear or favor, the truth as it sees it."

Eastland was an open and unashamed racist. Eastland is quoted by historian Robert A. Caro addressing a rally of the White Citizens' Council in 1956:

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives.... All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers." [1] (http://www.flakmag.com/books/senate7.html)

In his last years in the Senate he avoided repeating or associating himself with such stands in the face of the increasing black political power in Mississippi, which eventually contributed to his retirement.

Further reading

  • Transcript, James O. Eastland Oral History Interview I (http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/oralhistory.hom/Eastland/Eastland.asp), 2/19/71, by Joe B. Frantz, Internet Copy, LBJ Library. Accessed April 3, 2005.
  • A rhetorical analysis of Senator James O. Eastland's speeches, 1954-1959 by Patricia Webb Robinson. ASIN B0006WZP1Q.
  • Menace of subversive activity by James Oliver Eastland. Publisher: Congressional Record (1966). ASIN: B0007GR0Q4
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