The Public Interest

Blacks and the crisis in political participation

Charles V. Hamilton

Winter 1974

IT is significant that the decade of the 1960’s opened with a debate in the country and the Congress over various provisions of a proposed civil rights bill dealing with the right to vote in the South. Three years earlier, in 1957, Congress passed and the President signed the first civil rights law in 82 years. The main provisions of that legislation pertained to voting rights. But that law was relatively weak and many people knew it would have to be strengthened. In many ways, the 1960’s can be seen as a decade devoted to achieving the goal of full right of access to political participation. This seems a bit strange in a country that was assumed to have solved, or at least nearly solved, the problem of participation long before the 1960’s. This optimism was reflected in the following statement by Professor Samuel P. Huntington: “The United States... pioneered in popular participation in government not only in terms of the number of people who could vote for public officials but also, and perhaps more importantly, in the number of public officials who could be voted on by the people.”

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