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2 Posts authored by: Ray Bottorff Jr Expert

Subject Matter Expert (SME) - Civil Rights Blog #3
A Guide for Researchers Accessing Records of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

Ray Bottorff Jr

 

On September 9, 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (Public Law 85-315). While historians have laid bare the law’s numerous weaknesses, it did result, in its section 101, in the creation of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR).

 

Photograph of President Dwight D. Eisenhower Signing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 (H.R. 6127) in His Office at the Naval Base in Newport, Rhode Island” September 9, 1957, from the series Photographs of Official Activities of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 - 1961.
National Archives Identification Number (NAID): 7865612.

 

According to the mission of the USCCR, it is, “...established as an independent, bipartisan, fact-finding federal agency, our mission is to inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights laws. We pursue this mission by studying alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice. We play a vital role in advancing civil rights through objective and comprehensive investigation, research, and analysis on issues of fundamental concern to the federal government and the public.”

 

During its history, the USCCR’s reports to Congress and the American people served as a foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (which included the Indian Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The USCCR has the distinction of being the first Federal government agency to investigate in earnest Civil Rights matters concerning Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, Native Hawaiians, and issues involving gender biases.

 

Starting in the 1980s, the activities of the Commission became mired in political partisanship, with some appointees openly questioning the need for the USCCR. Nevertheless, the Commission was reauthorized in 1994 with the Civil Rights Commission Amendments Act. It remains active, conducting investigations, hearings, and issues reports to Congress and the American public.

 

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has had a significant impact on civil rights in the United States. However, their records at the National Archives (under Record Group 453) do not get the same level of scrutiny as compared to the records related to Civil Rights in the Department of Justice (Record Group 60), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Record Group 65), the U.S. Supreme Court (Record Group 267), U.S. Court of Appeals (Record Group 276), the District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21), the U.S. Senate (Record Group 46), and the U.S. House of Representatives (Record Group 233).

 


Pamphlet, The Commission on Civil Rights,” U. S. Government Printing Office, 1958, from the series President (1953-1961: Eisenhower). 1953 - 1961.
National Archives Identification Number (NAID): 12167074.


Part of the reason that RG 453 receives less attention has to do with the restrictions originally placed on many of the records. When accessioned by the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) - and later when the organization became known as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - two primary restrictions were placed on nearly all records in RG 453. One of these restrictions may require a person to make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to view them.

The first is restriction 5 USC 552 (b) (6) - Personal Information, which pertains to records containing the personal information (like addresses and other contact information) of individuals that the Commission talked to. Although decades have passed since the records were created (rendering some of the restrictions regarding Personally Identifiable Information (PII) no longer applicable), it may be possible that notations of restrictions remain on the records and their containers. Hence, the records are required to undergo a screening process by National Archives staff in order to make any releasable information available to the public.

 

The second restriction that applies to some of the Commission’s records is 5 USC 552 (b) (3) - Statute: 42 USC Ch.20A, Sec. 1975a. Per this restriction, all proceedings from Executive Session Commission meetings are confidential and not available to the public. It is possible that Executive Session Commission meeting records are sometimes intermingled with other records that are usually open to the public. Hence, all require screening by NARA personnel for this restriction to ensure that information is properly released.

 

Another reason for the underutilization of USCCR records may pertain to the need for information from paper-based finding aids to be added to the National Archives Online Catalog. For example, until recently a search of RG 453 in the Catalog provided basic information only. Further details were not available. However, the closure of NARA research rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 provided staff an opportunity to transcribe thousands of paper-only finding aids for the online catalog. This includes the finding aids for Record Group 453, Records of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Over the coming months, most of this record group’s file lists will be available to search in NARA’s Online Catalog.

 

Before you contact the National Archives, it is first recommended that you research the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights website. USCCR’s website has two important links, the first of which is their Archives tab. Under this link are press releases dating back to 2010 under “Highlights'', “Commission News”, “State Advisory Committees (SAC) News”, and “Other”.

 

The second tab of interest is the one for Historical Publications, which forwards you to the Thurgood Marshall Law Library of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law page dedicated to the Historical Publications of the United States Commission on Civil Rights. These publications are the culmination of the Commission's work and are the reports that were presented to Congress and the American public to act upon. These reports are a great place to begin your research into the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

 

Once you have searched potential areas of interest and are ready to view original documents related to the Commission reports, your next stop is the National Archives Catalog. You may use a basic search or advanced search to parse through Record Group 453 and review series descriptions and/or individual file lists.

 

The USCCR did not operate in a vacuum, of course, and it regularly interacted with other Federal agencies. Departments that worked with the Commission included the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Housing, Educations, and Welfare (HEW) (Record Group 235), and later the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (Record Group 207), among others. Therefore, searching the Catalog under those record groups and others may lead you to additional records of interest.

The Commission also interacted with every Presidential Administration since its founding. During your research, you will find some records that are only available at Presidential libraries. Therefore, your research on these records will begin at NARA’s Research Presidential Materials web page.

The third page of the Memorandum for the President from the Attorney General on civil rights legislation, 23 October 1963 from the series Papers of John F. Kennedy: Presidential Papers: President's Office Files, 1/20/1961 - 11/22/1963. Attorney General Robert Kennedy recommends to President John F. Kennedy to follow the Republican Party's suggestion to make the Commission permanent.
National Archives Identification Number: 193808.

 

USCCR reports heavily influenced congressional legislation. Consequently, the records of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives may provide a source of Commission documents and correspondence. The Center for Legislative Archives holds the historically valuable records of the U.S. Congress, including official committee records. To research congressional records and legislative history, start with the Center’s online search catalog or contact them directly at legislative.archives@nara.gov.

 

You may review records of general interest within RG 453. Publications, 1975 - 1996 (NAID 1112317) includes a variety of publications created both by the Commission and outside groups. Publications, Reports and Studies, 1973 - 1976 (NAID 1077448) is similar to NAID 1112317, but these records were maintained by the Chairman of the Commission on Civil Rights, Arthur S. Flemming. Lastly, Records Relating to Surveys and Studies, 1958 - 1962 (NAID 1142771) contains reports and other studies from the earliest days of the Commission.

 

Once you have determined the USCCR records you wish to review, you will need to visit the National Archives facilities in Metro-Washington DC. The Center for Legislative Archives is located at the National Archives building in Washington, DC. Records for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights are found in the National Archives at College Park, MD. Please note: Due to COVID-19 facility closures and evolving arrangements pertaining to research, you should call or correspond with staff at each facility before visiting to be briefed on the status of current research and arrangements.

When you first arrive at the National Archives you are required to go through the process of obtaining a Researcher’s Card. You will watch a presentation which covers basic rules of how to properly handle records. Handling the records properly is important to help ensure that they survive over time and can be used by future researchers.

 

National Archives facilities located across the country may have different procedures for accessing certain records. Consult each facility's NARA web page for details on hours of operation and procedures for researching their records.

Records with restrictions that have not been screened will be reviewed by the National Archives archival staff. Please note congressional records are made available according to the access policies set by the creator of the records -- most House records open when they are 30 years old and most Senate records open when they are 20 years old.

 

A view of the second-floor research room at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

 

You may use non-flash photography or your own scanner (provided it does not have a document feeder) to digitize documents. Photocopy machines are also available for use. The machines provide the options to scan your documents onto a thumb drive or print out paper hardcopies. Whatever method you use, copying costs 25 cents per page.

Once you have finished conducting your research, carefully return the materials to the Archives staff. Before you leave, all papers must be reviewed by NARA staff to ensure that record materials did not get inadvertently mixed in with the copies and dislocated from the files. Although your first day going through USCCR documents has ended, you are welcome to revisit the National Archives for further research.

 

This guide for USCCR records may pertain to other records at the National Archives. Hopefully, this examination of the underutilized records of the Commission encourages further examination, review, and research. The United States Commission on Civil Rights stands as an important Federal authority in the development of civil rights in the United States. Come and explore the history it helped to create at the National Archives.

 

A United States Commission on Civil Rights hearing, “Federal Me Too: Examining Sexual Harassment in Federal Workplaces,” May 2019 which included a briefing from U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier.
Photograph from the Events USCCR web page.

 

Subject Matter Expert (SME) - Civil Rights Blog #2:
Matters Concerning Elder Rights within Federal Records

Ray Bottorff Jr

 

Elder rights, in the United States, is not recognized as a constitutionally protected class. However, the rights of older people have been of increased importance and political concern during the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century. This is due to improvements in medicine extending the average life expectancy, urbanization, and industrialization changing the social structure in the United States resulting in Americans living longer and increasingly outside the traditional extended family structure. These changes meant that as the 20th century began, a larger number of older adults were living alone and in poverty in the United States.

This growing issue of poverty among older people was a major factor in the creation of the Social Security Act of 1935 to help provide economic security. Even with the worst issues of poverty being addressed, the issue of increasing healthcare costs helped lead in 1958 to the creation of the lobbying organization, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The AARP was founded by Ethel Percy Andrus and Leonard Davis, promoting insurance to retirees and advocating itself as a lobbying group for Americans over the age of 50. The AARP started lobbying for medical care for older adults, placing their increasingly stronger lobbying power behind the cause. By the 1960s, an increasing population of older Americans and the growing expense of medical care resulted in the creation of Medicare under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act in 1965 to help provide medical security to people aged 65 and older.

Photograph of President Lyndon B. Johnson Signing the Medicare Bill” July 30, 1965, from the series Johnson White House Photographs, 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969, National Archives Identification Number (NAID) 596403. Others in the picture include President Harry S. Truman, First Lady Bess Truman, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and Senator Edward V. Long.

 

 

While Social Security and Medicare were not advancements in civil rights for older adults per se, they nevertheless made it clear that older people had a political voice. Now that the basic needs of income and medical care were addressed, there were other rights and needs that needed attention.

 

The Older Americans Act was also passed in 1965. This act provided the first Federal-level programs, aid, and grants designed to help older adults. To help facilitate the Act’s mission, the law allowed the creation of the Administration on Aging (AoA) within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW). The AoA became the Federal Government’s advocate for matters concerning older Americans.

 

 

The first page of the Act of July 14, 1965, (Older Americans Act of 1965), Public Law 89-73, 79 STAT 218 from the series Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789 - 2013. National Archives Identification Number (NAID) 299905.

 

 

Over the years, the Older Americans Act was amended multiple times to address the needs of the community. The 2006 amendment dealt directly with the civil rights of older Americans, concerning the matters of long-term care and the growing problem of elder abuse in part by defining elder abuse and long-term care. The law also provided funding for Aging and Disability Resource Centers run by the states to help coordinate “comprehensive information on the full range of available public and private long-term care programs” amongst other aid.

 

The amendment also established the idea of “elder justice” which was “to prevent, detect, treat, intervene in, and respond to elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation and to protect older individuals with diminished capacity while maximizing their autonomy.” The 2006 amendment was designed to deal with the ever-growing population of older Americans and the increasing violations of their civil and human rights.

 

Age discrimination in the United States also became an increasing problem, elusive to document and difficult to prove when it did happen. President Lyndon Johnson and Congress attempted to tackle the matter with the 1967 law, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The ADEA was meant to end age discrimination in employment for anyone over the age of 40. Specifically, the law looked to address age discrimination in hiring, wages, benefits, promotions, terminations, layoffs, and in retirement pensions.

But the Act had its limitations, including being limited to companies that employed more than 20 people and whose business crossed state borders. The law also, however, allowed companies to terminate employment for older employees under terms like “good cause” and “reasonable factors'' that outwardly appeared unrelated to age. This Act would be subject to amendments over the years, most notably in 1986, when the ADEA was amended to ban mandatory retirement in most work sectors.

 

Page 64 of the file [Department of] Labor - Older Americans Act from the series Barbara Chow's Files, 2000 - 2001. National Archives Identification Number (NAID) 34427392. The documents in the file deal with the Department of Labor’s assessment and opinions over a proposed amendment to the Older Americans Act.

 

 

Federal records related to the rights of older Americans are dispersed over many record groups, much of which is not yet digitized for the National Archives Catalog. Such records involve the legislative process, the opinions and political support from various presidencies, decisions made in Federal Courts about these laws, and governance and legal enforcement of the new laws by various government agencies.

Among the record groups which will contain records concerning the rights of older adults are the General Records of the United States Government (Record Group 11), Records of the Social Security Administration (SSA) (Record Group 47), Records of the U.S. Senate (Record Group 46), Records of the U.S. House of Representatives (Record Group 233), General Records of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) (Record Group 235), Records of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) (Record Group 403), and General Records of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (Record Group 468).

In the Federal Courts, matters involving the rights of older Americans have also been heard over the decades, and records can be found on the subject in the Records of the Supreme Court (Record Group 267) , Records of the U.S. Court of Appeals (Record Group 276), and Records of the District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21).

 

These record groups can be found at the National Archives in Washington, DC, the National Archives at College Park, MD, and at National Archives locations around the country.


Even though elder rights are still not recognized as a constitutionally protected class, the struggle for their rights to life and health protection, as well as their civil rights against age discrimination, forced retirement, elder abuse, and exploitation remain ongoing today. This struggle is one deserving of acknowledgment and study, for it is very likely that most of us will someday become a part of this unprotected class.