The Community Relations Service (CRS) came into being alongside the Voting Rights Act—as part of the Act itself. And this organization was integrated into the Voting Rights Act in 1964 because President Lyndon Johnson wanted it to be included in that landmark legislation, in part because Johnson, as an adept politician and negotiator, saw the importance of establishing a means for mediation and negotiation on the local level in many places throughout the United States. The initial portfolio of the CRS was focused solely on issues around race and racial disputes, though it has since been formally extended to include issues around ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The CRS is housed in the Department of Justice, but operates as an independent entity, and does not work as part of the FBI or the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice. Grande Lum, who is currently provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Menlo College, had served as the Director of the CRS from 2012-2016, and he has taken the original edition of
America's Peacemakers: The Community Relations Service and Civil Rights (U Missouri Press, 2020), written by Bertram Levine, and updated it with another twenty years of the history of the CRS. This is a fascinating history of this often- overlooked governmental institution, and in our podcast conversation, Grande and I also discuss the process of updating the book itself, since he had made such great use of the original edition when he first became Director of the CRS. In taking the original text and adding in another two decades of history, Grande Lum worked with Bertram Levine’s children to make sure his work was also in the spirit of their father’s work, since Levine had written the original edition of the book. This podcast is an engaging discussion about the history of the Community Relations Service itself, the book that incorporates that history, highlighting the many successes of these domestic mediators and peacemakers, and the process for collaboratively updating this kind of a book. Lum also discusses some of the projects that have come out of the CRS, including the Divided Community Project at the Moritz School of Law at the Ohio State University (https://moritzlaw.osu.edu/dividedcommunityproject/), and other community mediation centers in different states and localities around the United States. These local and national organizations, along with the CRS, have been pursuing many of the ideas that are currently being discussed about law enforcement reform. America’s Peacemakers: The Community Relations Service and Civil Rights, co-authored by Bertram Levine and Grande Lum, is a fascinating history of the organization that has, for more than fifty years, been working to bring divided communities together, in peaceful dialogue, in an effort to defuse situations without violence or indictments.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @gorenlj.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.