THE President's Committee has received a well-deserved accolade of praise from the civilized, and of brickbats from the blood-fanatics, for its report on civil rights in America, of which more than a million copies have been reprinted. So far as I know, however, none of the commentators on this important document has noted that it is not the first in its field. Some 78 years before the landing of the Pilgrims, the first comprehensive report on the civil rights of Americans was completed. In the concluding paragraphs of his report, dated December 8, 1542, Fra Bartholomew de las Casas expressed some doubt as to "whether it could be worse to give the Indians into the charge of the devils of hell than to the Christians of the Indies." Unfortunately the world's mightiest government, in 1542, was not mighty enough to correct the abuses that Las Casas reported. A number of high-minded statutes outlawing various current forms of racial discrimination and oppression were promulgated, but they were not enforced. And because Spain, in its American dominions, could not assure equal justice to its people, the lands it ruled were blighted, and its imperial power slowly crumbled into the dust.
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