TROY — Piqua Congressman William McCulloch didn’t work tirelessly to see approval of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for the attention, but because it was the right thing to do, author Mark Bernstein said during Upper Valley Medical Center’s Martin Luther King Day Program on Jan. 18.
Bernstein writes on American history and is the author of the 2014 book “McCulloch of Ohio: For the Republic.”
He briefly told the UVMC audience the story of the Ohio farm boy who grew up in an all-white community and graduated from an all-white university and an all-white law school class before paving the way for what many consider the single most important law Congress passed in the 20th century.
The quiet, shy Republican moved to Piqua in the late 1920s following graduation and three years at a Florida law firm.
He was a founding partner of the law firm McCulloch, Felger, Fite and Gutmann in Piqua and ran first for the Ohio House of Representatives in 1932. He subsequently served 25 years in Congress, including as Speaker of the House.
Bernstein described how McCulloch gathered the support of fellow Republicans in Washington for the Civil Rights Act. He said the congressman refused to give in to efforts to dilute the legislation that, when signed by President Lyndon Johnson in June 1964, included provisions to deny federal money for programs that discriminated.
Bernstein said McCulloch spoke little about why he pursued the Civil Rights Act and later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
However shortly before leaving Congress, McCulloch said the country was one of many people and views.
“He said the prime purpose of legislation is to accommodate the interests, desires, wants and needs of all of our citizens,” Bernstein said. “To alienate some in order to satisfy others is not only a disservice to those we alienate but a violation of the principles of our Republic.”
The views of McCulloch contain a valuable lesson for today when partisan politics often dominate the news, Bernstein said.
“He wasn’t doing this because it was going to be advantageous to his party. He was doing this because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “William McCulloch’s belief was the purpose of legislation was not victory for your side but reconciliation for everyone. I think that view has perhaps never been more needed than it is today.”
The MLK Day program at UVMC was sponsored by the UVMC Foundation.