Advance Notice: Briefs

On this day in 1961: Ike addresses civil rights, term limits during Michigan visit 

By: - December 13, 2021 5:19 am

President Dwight D. Eisenhower receives a report from Lewis Strauss on Hydrogen Bomb tests in the Pacific, March 30, 1954 | U.S. Department of Energy photo via Flickr Public Domain

On Dec. 13, 1961, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the Michigan Constitutional Convention in Lansing and spoke about several topics, including civil rights and term limits.

The noted World War II military general and GOP two-term president offered 20 minutes of remarks and took 40 minutes of questions from convention delegates.

“So I hope that the rewritten draft of Michigan’s Constitution will define carefully the responsibilities that its people believe should belong to Michigan, and that they will forthrightly assume and exercise the authority essential to carrying out those responsibilities,” said Eisenhower.

The 1961-62 Michigan Constitutional Convention was a bipartisan body that led an effort to revise the state Constitution for the first time since 1908. The 144-member body produced a document that state voters approved on April 1, 1963. It became the Michigan Constitution of 1963.

Michigan Democratic Gov. John Swainson and Republican George Romney, convention vice chair and future Michigan governor, led the reception committee to host Eisenhower who served as president from 1953 to 1961.

When asked whether he thought that civil rights language should be placed in the state constitution, he was clear.

“I think it is essential,” said Eisenhower.

While president, Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Bill of 1957, the first measure of its kind since Reconstruction. It established the civil rights section of the U.S. Justice Department and empowered federal prosecutors to obtain court injunctions against interference with the right to vote. The creation of a civil rights commission was included in the Michigan Constitution.

Regarding term limits for elected officials, Eisenhower called for governors to have at least a four-year term. At the time, Michigan governors served two-year terms without limits. For example, G. Mennen Williams, a Democrat, served six, two-term terms as Michigan governor before deciding against seeking reelection in 1960. 

“Along with this we should have a constitutional amendment some day that will make our congressmen terms four years, being elected at the same time as the President, rather than having two years and spending every instant in campaigning,” said Eisenhower.

Michigan voters supported a statewide measure in 1992 that established limited terms for state House and Senate members, as well the offices of governor and lieutenant governor, secretary of state and attorney general. 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.