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John Hannah and the Civil Rights Commission

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed MSU President John A. Hannah as the first chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights. Prezi is based on display case exhibit made by Megan Malone. Prezi version done by Emma Busch.

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Transcript of John Hannah and the Civil Rights Commission

The Civil Rights Commission's first task was to investigate voter registration in Montgomery, Alabama in 1958. There had been numerous complaints from African Americans who had been denied the right to register and to vote. The CRC encountered immediate opposition for Circuit Court Judge George Wallace, who was a segregationist. Judge Wallace impounded the voter registration records and threatened to have CRC members arrested if they attempted to access the records. Furthermore, white registrars refused to testify at the first hearing. An agreement was reached in January 1959, allowing the CRC to view the records and the hearings were able to proceed.
"We did not seek this responsibility, but when the President appointed us to join in a nonpartisan mission to seek the facts of this complex human and legal problem commonly known as civil rights, we felt obligated to serve."

--Robert Storey, Dean of the Southern Methodist University Law School and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Members of the US Commission on Civil Rights stand in front of population maps. John Hannah points at one of the maps.

More information on U.S. Commission on Civil Rights can be found in the John A. Hannah papers (collection UA 2.1.12) at the Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections.
A man gives testimony at a Civil Rights Commission hearing on September 11, 1962 in Newark, New Jersey. According to Dr. Hannah, Newark was “engaged in a real attempt to do something about its problems.”

Members of the Civil Rights Commission speak with a woman during a field investigation in Arizona in February, 1962. Pictured, from left to right, are an unidentified woman, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, Robert Rankin, Erwin Griswold, and Robert Storey.

John Hannah and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Picture, from left to right, are (front row) Spottswood W. Robinson III, John A. Hannah, Robert G. Storey, (back row) Robert Rankin, Berl Bernhard, and Erwin Griswold.

John Hannah and the Civil Rights Commission
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, created by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, is responsible for investigating and making recommendations regarding civil rights issues. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed MSU President John A. Hannah as the first chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights. In a January 14, 1958 letter to Michigan Governor G. Mennen Williams, Dr. Hannah gave an explanation for accepting the position:
“Eventually I assented because of the conviction that this is the most important single problem facing our country both from the standpoint of our domestic tranquility and from the standpoint of long-time relationships with the uncommitted areas of the world that are so vital to the long-time well-being of our country.”
During Hannah’s tenure, the Commission investigated voter registration and elections in Montgomery, Alabama, education for Mexican Americans in San Antonio, Texas, and housing conditions of African Americans in Cleveland, Ohio, to name a few. Although the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had no enforcement powers, it did have a significant impact on public opinion.

The U.S. Ciivil Rights Commission pose with President Eisenhower at the National Conference of State Advisory Committee Delegates in June 1959.
Posed photograph of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights sitting at a boardroom table, taken on August 13, 1961. Pictured, from left to right, are Spottswood W. Robinson III, Theodore Hesburgh, Berl Bernhard, John A. Hannah, Robert G. Storey, Robert Rankin and Erwin Griswold.
President John F. Kennedy meets with members of the Civil Rights Commission in the White House on November 21, 1961. Pictured, from left to right, are John A. Hannah, Erwin Griswold, Berl Bernhard, and John F. Kennedy. Facing away from the camera are (L-R) Robert Storey and Rev. Theodore Hesburgh.

In February of 1965, the CRC and Hannah held hearings in Jackson Mississippi. At first faced with less than full cooperation from the State’s Governor Paul B. Johnson, the hearings were pushed back from the intended date of early January. Governor Johnson came into office on a segregationist platform.

Testimony during the Jackson Hearings included attacks made on churches by Klu Klux Klan members during voter registration, as well as people who were attacked, lost their jobs and feared for the safety of their family. When African Americans asked for police support in was said in many of the hearings that no arrests were ever made nor were any investigations made to seek out the attackers.

Although these hearings had no legal standing, they were quickly followed by the Voting Act Right of 1965.

John Hannah and Civil Rights Commission shaking hands. Pictured are, from left to right, Theodore Hesburgh, Doyle E. Carlton, John A. Hannah, Robert Rankin, Robert Storey, and George M. Johnson.

Letter written by commission to the President of the United States, presenting their findings from the hearings held in Jackson Mississippi.
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