George Bush Sr. on Civil Rights

President of the U.S., 1989-1993; Former Republican Rep. (TX)


1998: gay status of personal aide "doesn't matter to us"

For the first 4 years after leaving the White House, my father's personal aide, Michael Dannenhauer, went just about everywhere with Dad. They had developed a very close relationship, but all that time Michael also lived with a deeply held fear. "All those years I always wondered if the president assumed I was gay," Michael said. "In 1998, in the back of my mind I wondered if he would want me to be his chief of staff if he knew I was gay."

Michael confided in Jean Becker, Dad's chief of staff who was taking time off to help Dad write "All the Best." In December 1998, Michael was in Dad's office. "Now, don't be mad at Jean," Dad started the conversation. "Don't be mad at Jean, because I asked her. I asked her if you are gay."

Caught totally off guard, Michael sat down and was unable to look at Dad. "I want you to know I don't care," Dad continued. "Barbara and I love you. You are a part of our family, and it doesn't matter to us that you're gay. I am not embarrassed of you and never will be."

Source: My Father, My President, by Doro Koch Bush, p.467-468 , Oct 6, 2006

1980: Supported Equal Rights Amendment, but not as V.P.

[In the 1980 GOP primary], the press forced George to clarify his positions, most of which contrasted sharply with Ronald Reagan's. Bush said he favored an Equal Rights Amendment, and he opposed an amendment that would overturn Roe v. Wade and ban abortion. He also opposed licensing and registering firearms.

[After his nomination as Reagan's V.P.], George berated the press for asking about his past differences with Reagan. "I'm not going to be nickeled and dimed to death about that sort of thing," he said heatedly. To underscore the point, he dropped his support of the Equal Rights Amendment, vehemently changed his position on abortion, modified his stance on school busing, and proclaimed himself in favor of school prayer, all of which proved he was a man witth he sould of a Vice President.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.366&373 , Sep 20, 2004

1964: Advocated states' rights over Civil Rights Act

When Pres. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, George wrapped himself in the mantle of states' rights, which was conservative code for no federal intervention on racial matters. "The new civil rights act was passed to protect 14% of the people," George said. "I'm also worried about the other 86%."

To some, Bush's opposition to the civil rights bill put him in league with segregationists. Like them, George would "hate to see" the Constitution "trampled on in the process of trying to solve Civil Rights problems."

He later expressed regret at running so far to the right in 1964, yet he ran against civil rights again in 1966, and when he did vote for open housing in 1968, he seemed to do so in spite of himself--because black GIs expected it, not because it was the right thing to do.

He wrote in 1968, "I'll vote for the bill on final passage--have political misgivings--also constitutional--it won't solve much. But in my heart I know you're right on the symbolism of open housing."

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.214-7 & 242 , Sep 14, 2004

1990: Signed Americans with Disabilities Act

Dr. John Walker, the brother of George's mother, Dorothy, had joined Memorial Sloan-Kettering in 1952 as a clinical assistant in surgery. He was struck with polio in 1950 and lost most of the use of his limbs, eventually becoming bound to a wheelchair.

In addition to his own handicap, Dr. Walker had 2 daughters born with Down Syndrome. His most important influence on George was giving him sensitivity to the needs of the disabled that he might not otherwise have developed. For most of his life George remained insensitive to the imperative of racial justice and had a consistently less than admirable record on civil rights. He did, however, become a champion for the disabled. His admiration for his uncle, who had been crippled at the height of his career, led George to his finest hour as President: on July 26, 1990, he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, only 3 weeks before his Uncle John, then 81, died of complications from an aneurysm.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.129-130 , Sep 14, 2004

1959 home carried a restrictive racial covenant

Moving from Midland to Houston in the summer of 1959 required logistical planning by the Bushes because they were transporting a business, building a house, and expecting a baby.

The Bushes' new home at 5525 Briar Drive in the Broad Oaks housing development of Houston was built to their specifications on 1.2 acres and, although legally unenforceable, carried a restrictive racial covenant that stated: "No part of the property in the said Addition shall ever be sold, leased, or rented to, or occupied by any person other than of the Caucasian race, except in the servants' quarters."

These restrictive covenants, attached to both the properties that the Bushes bought and sold between 1955 and 1966, were common in Texas, although ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court in 1948. As late as 1986, the Justice Department had to force the county clerk in Houston to include a disclaimer on every certified real-estate record that such racial covenants were "invalid and unenforceable under Federal Law."

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.193 , Sep 14, 2004

1963: Civil Rights Bill violates constitutional rights

In June 1963, the President sent to Congress the most far-reaching civil rights bill in the country's history. To demonstrate a mandate for the legislation, Martin Luther King led 250,000 people to Washington that summer with the incandescent rhetoric of his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Campaigning in Texas, George Bush ignored King and vigorously opposed Pres. Kennedy and his civil rights bill at every turn. "I am against the Civil Rights bill on the grounds that it transcends civil rights and violates the constitutional rights of all the people," Bush said. "Job opportunity, education and fair play will help alleviate inequities. Sweeping federal legislation will fail. I am opposed to the public accommodation section. I still favor the problem being handled by moral persuasion at the local level."

Determined to campaign in each of Texas's 247 counties, George inveighed against the civil rights bill at every stop. "I think most Texans share my opposition to this legislation," Bush said.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.211 , Sep 14, 2004

1983: Debated Geraldine Ferraro; "We kicked a little ass"

Geraldine Ferraro, a former congresswoman from NYC, had been chosen as the first woman to run for national office on a major-party ticket. Her selection by Walter Mondale as his running mate had galvanized many women. [There was] enormous pressure on Ferraro, who had to surmount the bigotry and sexism her candidacy unleashed, particularly among men in the media.

The night of the VP debate, Oct. 11, 1983, Ferraro presented herself as informed and lucid. When attacked, she kept her temper but responded firmly, even sardonically. At one point during the debate Ferraro chided Bush for lecturing her. "Let me just say, .that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

The day after the debate the Vice President referred to the previous evening's debate: "I tried to kick a little ass." Hours later his staff showed up on the press plane wearing buttons that said, "We kicked a little ass."

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.388-390 , Sep 14, 2004

No professional women on Bush staff, nor in Bush family

The day after the [1983 VP debate with Geraldine Ferraro] the Vice President referred to the previous evening: "I tried to kick a little ass." Hours later his staff showed up on the press plane wearing buttons that said, "We kicked a little ass."

The Bushes didn't understand how offensive it was to women. "When the debate was over, the women in the press corps stood up and cheered Ferraro," recalled Jeb Bush. Female journalists resented Bush's chauvinistic treatment of Ferraro, which showed them something they had not seen before: his discomfort in accepting women as peers. They started to notice that there were no professional women on Bush's staff who held positions comparable to the men. "All the women were either secretaries or gofer," recalled one woman journalist.

Women reporters also observed there were no women in the Bush family who pursued a career or even held a professional job. As Barbara Bush told reporters: "We're all very happy being kept by our husbands."

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.389-391 , Sep 14, 2004

1990: vetoed Civil Rights Act & voter registration bill

Ralph Neas, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, felt the sting of Bush's retaliation after the President vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, which was intended to prohibit discrimination in employment. "I was very critical of the President for that veto and for calling the bill a quota bill simply to pander to the right wing," said Neas. "I said he was acting beneath the dignity of his office."

Despite Bush's rhetoric about voter outreach, he had vetoed passage of a voter-registration program that could have added millions of minority voters to the election rolls, and now he had vetoed a civil rights act passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress. "The White House is declaring open war on civil rights," said Neas.

The President became so angry at Neas that he momentarily forgot his name and startled reporters by blasting him as "that.that white guy who attacked me on this quota bill." Neas was barred from all future bill signings.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.478-479 , Sep 14, 2004

Signed 1991 Voting Rights Act after 1990 veto

The president had already vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1990, claiming it was a "quota bill." Determined not to veto any more civil rights legislation, the President directed his White House counsel to work with the Senate and House Democrats to reach a bipartisan agreement on the 1991 Civil Rights Act.

After a bitter and anguished struggle, a compromise was finally reached, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was sent to the President's desk for his signature. On the eve of the bill signing, Boyden Gray again emerged as the hangman. He circulated a presidential order to all federal agencies directing them to comply with provisions that would end a quarter century's worth of affirmative action and hiring guidelines benefiting women and minorities.

The President signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 on November 21, 1991, in a Rose Garden ceremony that was overshadowed by the intent of Boyden Gray's presidential directive.

Source: The Family, by Kitty Kelley, p.515-517 , Sep 14, 2004

Legislation is not enough to eliminate discrimination

If we seek--and I believe that every one of us does--to build a new era of harmony and shared purpose, we must make it possible for all Americans to scale the ladder of opportunity. If we seek to ease racial tensions in America, civil rights legislation is, by itself, not enough. The elimination of discrimination in the workplace is a vital element of the American Dream, but it is simply not enough.
(Remarks on signing the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Rose Garden.)
Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p.171-172 , Nov 21, 1991

Civil Rights Act: ban discrimination without quotas

I wrote this note to Senator Jack Danforth, when we could not agree on a civil rights bill.
Dear Jack,

...Needless to say we don’t feel we are “turning back the clock on civil rights.” Indeed I have stated that I want to sign a civil rights bill. I’ve also said that it is important that we get a bill, and rather than haggle over what some have called tiny differences, why not take a gigantic step forward by going with a bill where we have total agreement, leaving a handful of the knotty unresolved questions to later on.

Isn’t it more important to take a 90% step forward than to take no step at all? Anyway, let’s keep plugging away not letting the extremes on either side of this debate carry the day.

I signed the Civil Rights Act of 1991 on November 21. It did not include quotas. It did promote the goals of ridding the workplace of discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, and disability.
Source: Letter from George Bush in All The Best, p.531-532 , Aug 6, 1991

ADA is first declaration of equality for disabled people

Author's note: The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 President Bush would later call "really the world's first comprehensive declaration of equality" for disabled people.

"Together we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers we have accepted. For ours will never be a truly prosperous nation until all within it prosper."
(Remarks on signing the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, White House South Lawn.)

Source: Heartbeat, by Jim McGrath, p. 95-96 , Jul 26, 1990

Avoiding censorship more important than defunding NEA

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) were under fire for underwriting an art exhibit that featured a controversial painting of Jesus.
Diary entry March 28th:
Take the NEA for example. When I see Jesus Christ shooting up heroin or floating on a bottle of urine, I figure that there ought not to be one dime of federal funds going into this. And then you think of the alternative that comes to mind-federal censorship-and you worry, “Where will this lead?”
Source: All the Best, p. 466: Diary entry and later notes , Mar 28, 1990

Called for Constitutional Amendment against flag burning

Much to my disappointment, the Supreme Court had just ruled 5-4 that the Constitution did not protect the flag from being burned. Justice Scalia was in the majority opinion. His wife feared I might be holding it against him, which of course I did not. However, I did immediately call for a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.
Source: Letter from George Bush in All The Best, p.432 , Jun 28, 1989

Supports school prayer, like Pledge of Allegiance

I think you’re wrong on prayer in schools. It is not just ideologues who want the voluntary prayer in school. Believe me, it is much deeper that that. And then there’s the Pledge of Allegiance. It feels good to go to some Rotary meetings in Iowa and say the Pledge-it really does-especially that part “one nation under God.” It’s all winners and no losers. I have a funny feeling it keeps us a little more together. Is it okay to say the Pledge in schools but not to have voluntary prayers?

Until the Religious Right got involved because of their concerns on drugs, decline in family, shifting views on homosexuals or divorce, no one gave much of a damn. We might not have agreed with the more liberal activists when they were up in arms, but we said okay, let them do their thing.

Now the Religious Right is up in arms. Most of them (while believing deeply) are not totally intolerant of the views of others. Now they are trying to stand up for things I fundamentally believe in. Where am I wrong?

Source: All the Best, p. 320: Letter to Yale Pres. Bart Giamatti , Jul 29, 1982

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Other past presidents on Civil Rights: George Bush Sr. on other issues:
Former Presidents:
Barack Obama(D,2009-2017)
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Joseph Biden
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole

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Page last updated: Feb 22, 2022