Resources Regarding Calvin Coolidge’s Record on African-American Rights, Native American Rights and Immigration

The Board of Trustees of Forbes Library recently renewed its commitment to “seek out and eliminate underlying structures of white supremacy, and promote racial and social justice in our policies, procedures, and programs.” To work towards that goal, the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum, which is housed within Forbes Library, is providing an online collection of resources regarding issues of race impacted and influenced by the Coolidge presidency.

Historical interpretations of Coolidge’s record on race vary considerably. Our mission is to provide access to the full range of relevant primary sources and historical analyses, so interested parties can learn more about Coolidge’s actions in office, draw their own conclusions about his legacy, and sharpen our collective understanding of race relations in America during the early 20th century.

The information below is grouped into three areas in which Coolidge took notable actions: African-American rights, Native American rights and immigration. Please note that all language used, and ideas conveyed, in the documents below are reflections of the creators and of the time they were created. Neither Forbes Library nor the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum endorses or sanctions any viewpoints therein.

This online exhibit will continue to evolve, with the help of feedback from visitors and users. Please share your thoughts and reactions by contacting the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum at

  1. African-American Rights
    1. Primary Sources
    2. Historical Analyses
  2. Native American Rights
    1. Primary Sources
    2. Historical Analyses
  3. Immigration
    1. Primary Sources
    2. Historical Analyses


Primary Sources

Annual Message to the Congress (December 1923)
Howard University Commencement (June 1924)
Letter to Charles F. Gardner (August 1924)
Letter to Dr. Robert R. Moton, president of the National Negro Business League (August 1924)
Annual Message to the Congress (December 1925)

Historical Analyses

A Time for Parting: The Negro during the Coolidge Years” by John L. Blair, Journal of American Studies Vol. 3, No. 2 (Dec., 1969)
This detailed academic study concludes that “Negro disenchantment” and “disillusionment” with the Republican Party occurred on Coolidge’s watch, because Coolidge’s hopeful rhetoric was not matched by sufficient action.

“…he was on good terms with many of the Negro leaders, and it is noteworthy that in all of the articles, editorials, and letters expressing Negro discontent, there is not even one hint that Coolidge himself was an enemy of Negro aspirations. What they criticized was his unwillingness to back up his ideals. How does one explain this obvious lack of initiative? … A large part of the answer may be found where historians have not looked, in Coolidge’s idealism … his own conviction that you need only to point out a man’s error for him voluntarily to tread the path of the enlightened, was fatal to Negro dreams of a new era. It was also fatal for the Republican Party.”

Blair gave context to the August 1924 Gardner letter, which defended the right of people of color to run for office. The letter was written two months after the NAACP failed to convince the Republican Party to explicitly denounce the Ku Klux Klan in its platform, and three months before Election Day:

“[Coolidge] did not, yet, denounce the Klan. His campaigning at all levels was minimal, though the one time he did tackle the Negro issue it was with a forcefulness which must have surprised some of his followers…

“…The origin of the President’s statement is found in the opposition to Dr. Charles Roberts, a Negro designated by the Republican County Committee as the organization’s candidate from New York’s Twenty-first Congressional District … Charles F. Gardner [wrote Coolidge] he was concerned ‘whether a negro is allowed to run for Congress … in this, a white man’s country. …’

“…[Coolidge’s response to Gardner,] when released, gave Coolidge new strength among Negroes. Coupled with several other gestures made by the President, it was sufficient to prevent major defections.”

Blair also summarized Coolidge’s record on desegregation of government offices:

“When Coolidge left office in 1929 the problem was not fully resolved, though according to the Crisis [the magazine of the NAACP] there was ‘apparently no discrimination’ in the Departments of Agriculture, Labor and State. A whole coloured wing in the Census Bureau was abolished, while segregation was ‘practically ended’ in the Departments of Commerce and Interior. There was, however, segregation by group in the Government Printing Office and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Cafeteria service remained segregated, in many instances, as did that last stronghold of segregation, the rest-room. The situation did improve during Coolidge’s tenure, but not so much that in mid-1928, after [Herbert] Hoover had been nominated, [NAACP Executive Secretary James Weldon] Johnson would refrain from sending the president a telegram asking him, on behalf of the NAACP, to take immediate action in abolishing racial segregation in the Washington departments.”

Calvin Coolidge’s Afro-American Connection” by Maceo Crenshaw Dailey, Contributions in Black Studies, Vol. 8 [1986], Art. 7

Dailey’s exploration of Coolidge’s record draws a conclusion similar to Blair, questioning Coolidge’s reliance on Black advisers tied to the late Booker T. Washington, such as Dr. Robert R. Moton:

“Coolidge’s judgment was impaired … with blacks because he made the mistake of surrounding himself with ‘old guard’ politicians who were a carryover from the Booker T. Washington era. And, as president, he too came to take the Afro-American vote for granted in a decade when blacks were demonstrating a capacity for new thinking and seeking other political alternatives compatible with reformist activities of the UNIA [Universal Negro Improvement Association], the NAACP, and the Harlem Renaissance movement.”

Dailey analyzed the impact of Coolidge’s first annual address to Congress in late 1923:

“The pinnacle of Afro-American confidence in the new chief executive came [when Coolidge] opened the segment of this speech on racial reform with the ringing declaration that under the Constitution, ‘the rights of colored citizens were as sacred as those of any other citizen’ and that it was ‘both a public and private duty to protect these rights.’ The President went on to urge the Congress ‘to exercise all its power of prevention and punishment against the hideous crime of lynching.’ … [The speech] was favorably received by blacks who interpreted it as the beginning of new executive sensitivity to assist them in their endeavors to improve their status in the American society.”

Dailey also chronicled Coolidge’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to pass a federal anti-lynching bill:

“In 1923, the very year in which Congressman Leonidas Dyer’s anti-lynching measure was defeated in the United States Senate, a total of twenty-nine Afro-Americans had been hanged by mobs. Anticipating the reintroduction of the Dyer Bill in Congress in 1924, Coolidge took a courageous step in urging Capitol Hill legislators to pass the anti-lynching measure. The chief executive’s recommendation for a biracial commission for easing the settlement of southern black migrants in northern industrialized areas amounted to an endorsement of the Layton bill, one of the goals of which was to facilitate the transition of workers to life in urban regions …

“Coolidge … decided ultimately to forego any endorsement of the Layton Bill and anti-lynching measure in Congress because he feared such support would jeopardize the passage there of legislation for the Mellon tax reduction act of 1924. The extent of Coolidge’s retreat from his commitment to reform measures for Afro-Americans was apparent in his response to a black delegation to the White House in 1927 when he expressed apprehension that any support on his part to enforce the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment might lead to a disruptive Senate filibustering maneuver hampering endeavors to get other legislation through the Congress.”

The Little Known History of Coolidge and Civil Rights” by Kurt Schmoke, Coolidge Quarterly, Volume 1, Issue 3 (November 2016)
In this laudatory essay, Schmoke credits Coolidge with greatly improving higher education for African-Americans through his support for Howard University’s medical program, which was first announced in his 1923 address to Congress:
“Coolidge’s $500,000 foundation helped improve medical care and health outcomes for African Americans. It also laid the groundwork for future presidents to build upon, sending more Federal dollars to Howard. This enabled the university to catalyze the creation of a middle class in the African American community. To this day Howard is considered the ‘Harvard’ of historically black universities, granting more PhDs to African Americans than any other higher education institution in the country. Howard has produced an impressive array of African American leaders in all areas of life, from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison. Coolidge’s appropriation helped lay the groundwork for that impressive record.”“The Ku Klux Klan in Calvin Coolidge’s America” by Jerry L. Wallace (July 2014)

Wallace explored Coolidge’s method of opposing the Ku Klux Klan in this essay written for the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation website:

“While not denouncing the Klan by name, Harding and Coolidge through inference clearly spelled out their opposition to the hooded knights….

“As President, Coolidge expressed his antipathy to the Klan by reaching out in a positive, public way directly to its victims … Coolidge sought to highlight their positive achievements and contributions to American life … There were, of course, other factors behind the President’s approach: He was probably fearful that a direct attack on the Klan by name would detract from addressing the pressing issues of postwar reconstruction then demanding the attention of the American people, as well as sow the seeds of discord among them at the very moment when national unity was essential for moving forward. In addition, such an attack would provide the Klan with a goldmine of publicity and likely bring it renewed vigor … Moreover, the President undoubtedly realized from his study of history that hate groups like the Klan had historically come and gone, and that this Klan would be no different. Thus, it was best to let the Klan burn itself out, which, indeed, it did.

“The President’s approach of focusing on those affected by Klan’s hatred, rather than on the Klan itself, did not satisfy all. Indeed, for some individuals—notably the victims of the Klan’s intolerance, especially blacks—nothing less than a public denunciation from him would suffice. When such was not forthcoming, they were not silent in their criticism of him.”

Opening the Door to Hope: Coolidge and Civil Rights”, Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation 2017 Presidents’ Day lecture by Rushad Thomas [VIDEO]Thomas argued in this 40-minute lecture: “The record of President Coolidge’s approach to race and civil rights is undoubtedly something all students and admirers of Calvin Coolidge can be proud of.”



Primary Sources

Text of the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 (or Snyder Act) which Coolidge signed into law on June 2, 1924.
Video (from British Pathé and of Coolidge’s 1927 adoption into the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Coolidge Is Now ‘Heap Big’ Chieftain in Sioux Tribe,” contemporaneous news coverage of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe ceremony by United Press (August 1927).

Historical Analyses

Which US presidents actually tried to benefit Native Americans? Here’s what history says” by Edward Mair (August 2017)
In an essay published by The Conversation, Mair says of Coolidge:

“…his Indian policy marked a real watershed in government relations with Native America. Before Coolidge, Indian policy had become a low priority of presidential administrations since the Dawes Act of 1887. This act ended up stealing large tracts of land from Native communities and devastated generations of indigenous families. When assuming office, Coolidge looked to set in motion a reorganisation of federal Indian policy.

“The Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, which granted US citizenship to every Native American, was the first step to restricting the effects of the Dawes Act. This act gave Native Americans a political voice, while also giving them a government safeguard against fraudulent land purchases.

“Later, during Coolidge’s presidency, the Interior Department’s Meriam Report was finally published, which concluded that the Dawes Act had been a failure. ‘It is not surprising,’ the report claimed, ‘to find low incomes: low standards of living, and poor health’ among the Indians of the United States. The Meriam Report – and Coolidge’s public support for its findings – paved the way for an overhaul of Indian policy.

“Coolidge’s Indian policy was not a complete success. His administration started the desecration of sacred Lakota Sioux lands with the construction of the Mount Rushmore monument and the Indian Citizenship Act was vague on tribal sovereignty. Yet Coolidge’s efforts proved an essential foundation for future policies that improved the Indians’ standing, particularly Franklin Roosevelt’s Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.”

What Calvin Coolidge Didn’t Understand About Native Americans” by Cecile R. Ganteaume (November 2017)
The associate curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian wrote this critique for the “What It Means to Be an American” series, produced by The Smithsonian and Arizona State University:

“Throughout all of his interactions with Native people, however, Coolidge would cling fast to an outmoded and misguided 19th-century mindset: The conviction that Indians could only improve their lot by assimilating into U.S. culture, and that it was the federal government’s responsibility to make that happen. It was a paternalistic policy that would soon begin to be upended, thanks to the efforts of a new generation of Indian rights activists like Yellow Robe, and their allies. But Coolidge missed the message these activists tried to bring him during the summer of 1927—and, indeed, throughout his presidency—to become a holdout who, despite good intentions, thwarted and delayed efforts to improve life for millions of Native Americans.”

“Calvin Coolidge and Native Americans: A Complex History” by Colleen Shogan(October 2021)
In this piece for The White House Historical Association, Shogan suggests that Coolidge’s interest in Native American affairs was influenced by his understanding that his father’s side of the family had a “marked trace of Indian blood” as well as his assimilationist views:

“Coolidge actively engaged with Native Americans as president and promoted these interactions in the media. Coolidge hosted Native Americans at the White House numerous times, publicly released posed photographs with them, and even visited a Native American tribal reservation in South Dakota … Coolidge clearly promoted his interactions with Native American populations and viewed them as helpful to his public persona. Coolidge understood that the media landscape was changing, and the American presidency was rapidly becoming an office heavily reliant upon a cultivated image and press coverage. Although Coolidge’s astute self-awareness about the evolving demands of the presidency provided prescient, many of his beliefs about Native Americans were firmly grounded in the previous century’s predominant paternalistic policies of assimilation. In that sense, Calvin Coolidge’s relationship with Native Americans might be described as dipping one foot in modernity with the other firmly planted in the traditional views of the past.”</dd>


Primary sources

Whose Country is This?”, Good Housekeeping (February 1921)
Annual Message to the Congress (December 1923)
Text of the Immigration Act of 1924 signed by President Coolidge on May 26, 1924
Toleration and Liberalism,” speech to the American Legion Convention (October 1925)
Address at the Dedication of the Statue of John Ericsson (May 1926)

Historical analyses

Milestones in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations” by the State Department’s Office of the Historian
Includes an overview of the 1924 immigration law and its impacts on the American population.
Calvin Coolidge” by David Greenberg (December 2006)
In this overview of Coolidge’s presidency, Greenberg, a Rutgers University professor of history and journalism, wrote about Coolidge’s role in The Immigration Act of 1924:

“Never one to occupy the fringes of political opinion, Coolidge endorsed new immigration caps in his 1923 State of the Union message, declaring ‘American must be kept American.’ (Three years earlier, Coolidge had stated crudely that the Nordic race would decline if its people combined with those of other races–but on the whole his racial attitudes were neither especially enlightened nor especially benighted for his age.)

“Congress, however, needed no prodding from Coolidge to act … [A bill was] proposed to limit each country’s immigrants according to a formula based on the 1890 Census … Another provision barred the Japanese from immigrating altogether…

“…With Coolidge’s backing, [Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes] pressed the Senate to make room for a quota of Japanese. Unfortunately, Hughes hurt his cause with a tactical blunder. Having been cautioned by the Japanese ambassador, Masanao Hanihara, of ‘grave consequences’ should the ban become law, Hughes relayed the ambassador’s warning to the Senate … An anti-Japanese backlash followed, and the Senate upheld the exclusion with scant dissent.

“…Coolidge let his unhappiness with the Japanese exclusion be known and … made noises about vetoing the immigration bill. But he never considered that option seriously.”

Coolidge” by Amity Shlaes (February 2013)
In this full-length biography, Shlaes, who is the chair of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation, wrote about Coolidge’s thought process regarding the Immigration Act of 1924:

“Coolidge had to decide whether to sign the immigration bill. He wanted to restrain immigration but was not as great a fan of quotas as [Senator William] Dillingham had been; Coolidge no longer spoke in the racialist tones of the unfortunate articles he had written as vice president. His position now was that he did not like to judge people by their race or creed … On May 26, he sat down at a little desk on the White House lawn, bit his lip, and signed the immigration law, appending his own special criticism of the Japanese exclusion component.”

(For more history of the Japanese exclusion provision, and Hughes’ failed attempt to remove it from the bill, read “One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965” by Jia Lynn Yang.)

The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and other European Immigrants Out of America” by Daniel Okrent (May 2019)
In this book about the 1924 immigration law, Okrent describes Coolidge as “if anything even more committed to slamming the doors” on immigrants than his predecessor Warren G. Harding, and cites direct encouragement Coolidge gave to anti-immigration legislators. Referring to Coolidge’s 1921 Good Housekeeping article, Okrent characterizes Coolidge as having “introduced ‘racial considerations’ and ‘biological laws’ into the official conversation.”
Whose Country is This? Trump, Coolidge, and Immigration” by Bruce W. Dearstyne (February 2019)
In this essay published by the History News Network, Dearstyne describes Coolidge’s “views on immigration” as “complicated.” He noted Coolidge argued the 1924 law “saves the American job for the American workman.” But Dearstyne also wrote, “he opposed some immigration restrictions and celebrated America as a melting pot.”

“He told the American Legion convention in 1925 that ‘Whether one traces his Americanism back three centuries to the Mayflower, or three years [ago in] the steerage, is not half so important as whether his Americanism of today is real and genuine. No matter by what various crafts we came here, we are all now in the same boat.’ In a 1926 speech, he said ‘when once our feet have touched this soil, when once we have made this land our home, wherever our place of birth, whatever our race, we are all blended in one common country. All artificial distinctions of lineage and rank are cast aside. We all rejoice in the title of Americans.’”

“Calvin Coolidge and the Jews” by Saul Jay Singer (July 2020)
Writing for the The Jewish Press, Singer explored Coolidge’s relationship with the Jewish community and the impact of his immigration law:

“As president, he largely ignored the Jewish community and took no part in the debate that continued to rage during his administration over the anti-Semitism of Henry Ford. To the great disappointment of the American Jewish community, he also signed the Johnson-Reed Act, an immigration bill that restricted Jewish immigration … Nevertheless, Coolidge signed ‘The Anglo-American Convention on Palestine,’ a covenant with Britain that recognized the British Mandate over Eretz Yisrael … In 1924, Coolidge received Rav Kook, Eretz Yisrael’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi, at the White House, thereby (as far as my research indicates) becoming the first president to receive a chief rabbi from Eretz Yisrael … In one of the most beautiful pro-Jewish speeches by a chief executive in American history, [Coolidge in 1925] affirmed that ‘Hebraic mortar cemented American democracy’ and lauded the history and achievements of American Jews.”

Mistaking Eugenics for Social Darwinism: Why Eugenics Is Missing from the History of American Economics” by Thomas C. Leonard, History of Political Economy (2005) 37 (Suppl_1): 200–233.
White Nationalism’s Deep American Roots” by Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, April 2019
These two essays touch on Coolidge’s eugenics-influenced statements from the Good Housekeeping essay, “Whose Country Is This?” in the process of exploring the popularity of eugenics in the early 20th century.