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Howard E. Shuman: Legislative and Administrative Assistant to Senator Paul Douglas

“The person who gets the credit is the fifty-first person who decides to come aboard,…”

Howard Shuman reflects on Senator Paul Douglas’ leadership in the civil rights fight throughout his Senate career.

SHUMAN: The people who bring about change never get the credit. You see that all the time in the Senate. The person who is out there battling to begin with never gets credit. The person who gets the credit is the fifty-first person who decides to come aboard, the marginal vote that shifts at the last moment. They take everybody else for granted. But I think Mr. Douglas felt that his leadership of the Civil Rights fight was the greatest thing that he did in the Senate. And it brought a profound change in the nature of the country—for the better—even with some of the things that have happened since. So while he may have been defeated for reelection in 1966, his determined efforts forced the Senate and the country to face up to the moral issue. He may have lost in the short run, but he had a profound effect on the course of history. I consider it the greatest public moment of my life to have been—as he called me—his strong right arm in this prolonged battle for fundamental justice. Johnson and others fought him because he forced them to face up to an issue they wanted to sweep under the rug.

Certainly for Mr. Douglas, and in a lesser sense for me as his lieutenant, in retrospect this fight gave a sense of purpose to our lives in a way no other events or issues have superseded.