WSJ review of Ike's Final Battle
To put it kindly, Eisenhower was ambivalent on civil rights. "Conservative by nature, he hoped that the advance of the civil rights movement would be gradual, allowing time for the South to change," writes Kasey S. Pipes in "Ike's Last Battle." Most of all, Eisenhower didn't want to lead a civil-rights crusade from the White House. "The only crusade he had ever wanted to lead was liberating Europe in World War II," Mr. Pipes says.
But when necessary -- or when steps toward desegregation were relatively painless -- Eisenhower acted. He broke the color barrier in the military by deploying black soldiers alongside whites to win the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and January 1945. As president, he integrated the schools and movie theaters in Washington, D.C., and federal installations around the country. Most important, he sent U.S. Army troops to Little Rock, Ark., in September 1957 to escort nine black students into Central High School after days of violent protest. It was a defeat from which segregationist forces never recovered.
"Little Rock represented something else as well: the culmination of Eisenhower's own attitude toward racial justice," Mr. Pipes writes. "Ike had enjoyed the luxury of endorsing civil rights in broad terms, knowing full well that much of segregation law was a state and local matter. Little Rock ended that."
...Mr. Pipes is not a professional historian. He is a public-relations consultant and speechwriter who worked in the Bush White House from 2002 to 2005. But he has written a highly readable and credible account of Eisenhower's struggle with race and civil rights. While sympathetic, he doesn't sugarcoat Eisenhower's qualms about desegregation or excuse his unwillingness to
move decisively before Little Rock.