James EastlandJames Oliver Eastland
- February 19
) was an American politician from Mississippi
, first elected to the Senate
. He served in many different capacities, including Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (1956
) and President pro Tempore of the Senate (1972
Eastland 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.
When the United States Supreme Court decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 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."
Eastland was an ally of Joseph McCarthy
and served on the Committee investigating many Americans' connections to the Communist party
. 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 5 January 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."