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Profile: James O. Eastland

James O. Eastland was a participant or observer in the following events:

August 29, 1957: Congress Passes Civil Rights Act

Congress passes the Civil Rights Act (CRA) of 1957, the first such law to pass Congress since the federal civil rights laws of 1875. The law allows the US attorney general to bring suits to address discrimination and voter intimidation against African-Americans and other minorities. The CRA is the jumping-off point of successive legislative attempts to grant equal rights and protections for minority citizens. President Eisenhower was never a vocal supporter of civil rights, believing that such changes had to come from within the “heart” and not be imposed by legislation from Washington. However, he does support the CRA, and helped push it through Congress against entrenched resistance, largely but not entirely from Southern Democrats determined to protect segregationist practices even after the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954). The CRA originally created a new division within the Justice Department to monitor civil rights abuses, but Senate Democrats, led by Lyndon Johnson (D-TX), worked to water down the bill in order to keep Southern Democrats and more liberal Democrats from the west and northeast from tearing the party apart along ideological lines. Johnson, along with Senator James O. Eastland (D-MS), rewrote the CRA to take much of its power away. The final version does grant new protections for African-American voters, pleasing the liberals of the Democratic Party, but contains almost no enforcement procedures for those found obstructing African-Americans’ attempts to vote, thus mollifying the conservative wing of the party. Eisenhower himself admitted that he did not understand parts of the bill. African-American leader Ralph Bunche, a prominent US diplomat, calls the act a sham and says he would rather have no bill than the CRA. But Bayard Rustin, a leader of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), says the bill has symbolic value as the first piece of civil rights legislation passed in 82 years. [History Learning Site, 2012; American Civil Liberties Union, 2012]

Entity Tags: Dwight Eisenhower, Bayard Rustin, Civil Rights Act of 1957, James O. Eastland, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ralph Bunche, US Congress

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” [Time, 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. [Time, 3/5/1973]
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, James O. Eastland, J. Edgar Hoover, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Dean, L. Patrick Gray, Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Roman Hruska, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

L. Patrick Gray, the acting director of the FBI, withdraws his name from consideration to become the full-fledged director after a bruising month of Senate hearings (see February 28-29, 1973). [Time, 4/16/1973] Gray resigns from the FBI shortly thereafter (see April 27-30, 1973). [New York Times, 7/7/2005] (Gray and the White House made some fruitless attempts to skew the hearings in Gray’s favor. According to the FBI’s 1974 internal Watergate report, “It is noted that in connection with his confirmation hearings, Mr. Gray on occasion instructed that proposed questions and answers about various matters be prepared which could be furnished to friendly Republican Senators.” One such set of “friendly” questions was indeed asked by Senator Edward Gurney (R-FL) about the ongoing FBI investigation of Donald Segretti—see June 27, 1971, and Beyond.) [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file] The Senate Judiciary Committee was sharply divided over Gray’s nomination, with many senators viewing Gray as little more than a White House operative due to his admitted improper cooperation with White House aides in the FBI’s Watergate investigation, and his admitted destruction of potentially incriminating evidence. Many in the Nixon White House had privately withdrawn their support for Gray. Committee chairman James Eastland (D-MS) told Attorney General Richard Kleindienst that it was unlikely the committee will approve Gray’s ascension to the post. The committee’s ranking minority member, Roman Hruska (R-NE), a Nixon loyalist, proposed that the commitee delay any decision until after the Senate Watergate Committee completes its investigation, giving Gray time to quietly resign, but Gray’s most powerful opponent on the committee, Robert Byrd (D-WV) headed off that proposal. After the session, Gray asked President Nixon to withdraw his name from consideration. Nixon says that Gray is a victim of “totally unfair innuendo and suspicion,” and defends his administration’s access to the FBI files as “completely proper and necessary.” Byrd proposes that the FBI become an independent agency not answerable to the attorney general, as does another lawmaker, Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA). The proposal will not gain much traction. [Time, 4/16/1973]

Entity Tags: Nixon administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Edward Gurney, Donald Segretti, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, L. Patrick Gray, Roman Hruska, Senate Judiciary Committee, James O. Eastland, Richard M. Nixon, Robert C. Byrd, Richard Kleindienst

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski receives a phone call from Senator James Eastland (D-MS), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a longtime friend of Richard Nixon. Eastland tells Jaworski that Nixon had called him from the Nixon compound in San Clemente, California. Nixon had cried during the conversation, says Eastland: “He said, ‘Jim, don’t let Jaworski put me in that trial with [former aides H. R.] Haldeman and [John] Ehrlichman. I can’t take any more.…’ He’s in bad shape, Leon.” Jaworski asks if Eastland has any plans for a Senate resolution opposing prosecution for Nixon; such a resolution would not be legally binding, but would provide cover for both Jaworski and President Ford if either decided to do something to keep Nixon out of court. “We’ll think on it,” Eastland says. Despite his mandate to pursue Nixon and bring him before a jury, Jaworski does not want Nixon in court. But he cannot find a legal justification for such an action. Prosecution counsel Philip Lacovara will recall: “The whole premise of this exercise called Watergate was to follow the facts wherever they lead, and if they led into the Oval Office, to apply the law to those facts in the same way that the law would apply to any other person. It would be fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of equal application of the law to prosecute people who had acted on President Nixon’s behalf, and indeed under President Nixon’s direction, and to give him a pass.” [Werth, 2006, pp. 74-75]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, John Ehrlichman, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, James O. Eastland, Philip Lacovara, Leon Jaworski, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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