The last of the three great civil rights bills of the 1960s came before the House of Representatives on April 10, 1968, the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was buried following his assassination. The Open Housing Act as it was known provided for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, religion, or national origin and made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone … by reason of their race, color, religion, or national origin.” It would be the most controversial bill that Congressman George Bush would confront during his two terms in the U.S. House.
Letters from his constituents in Houston were heavily against the legislation. His office received threatening phone calls. A written response alone would not suffice in defusing such an emotional issue. “It would have to be talked out, face-to-face,” Mr. Bush later wrote. President Bush described his first large meeting with angry constituents in April of 1968 after returning from Washington — and his unpopular vote — in his book All the Best:
Almost all of my constituents were opposed to it, as were most in the Texas congressional delegation. I still had some constitutional concerns about the bill, as I did in 1964, but the problem of discrimination troubled me deeply. I became particularly passionate on the issue after my tour in Vietnam, where I saw young black soldiers fighting and dying for love of their country while affluent white kids ran away or got deferred, letting others go in their place. Were we supposed to tell these black soldiers when they came home that they couldn’t buy houses in our neighborhood? … (After the vote) I did go back to Houston to face my angry constituents. When I arrived at an open meeting, I was greeted with catcalls and boos, and at first they wouldn’t even let me speak. Eventually they calmed down so I could at least be heard. No one was more shocked than I when, at the end, they gave me a standing ovation.
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