I was required, as director of the Office for Civil Rights, to go into these school districts and make sure that they were breaking down the dual school system and taking steps to desegregate these schools. And we were making good progress. The problem was that Nixon had cut a deal with the South in what was called the “Southern strategy.”
He was worried about Rockefeller when he was running for president — Nelson Rockefeller, who was a moderate Republican. So he cut a deal with a lot of the Southerners that he would back off of tough civil rights enforcement. They supported him. It’s called the “Southern strategy.” I was aware of that, but I really did not believe, when I became director of the Office for Civil Rights, that we would retreat on an issue as fundamental as whether or not we give children — young children — the right to an equal education.
And also because Nixon himself had supported civil rights when he was in the Congress, when he was a senator. And he’s a Quaker, by religion. They believe in civil rights. So I thought, you know, “It’s going to be tough. We have this political deal, but at the same time, I think enforcing civil rights laws is the right thing to do.” So I was doing that. I knew there were political pressures to back off, but I continued to do it. And I kind of made that a very fundamental decision.