William M. McCulloch

William Moore McCulloch was a civil rights activist and member of the United States House of Representatives from Ohio in the mid-twentieth century. He was instrumental in crafting and passing several key pieces of legislation in the 1960s to ensure equal rights for all Americans, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

William McCulloch was born near Holmesville, Ohio, in Holmes County, on November 24, 1901. After attending public schools in the area, he enrolled at the College of Wooster, where he received an undergraduate degree. In 1925, McCulloch earned a law degree from The Ohio State University and was admitted to the Ohio bar. After graduation, McCulloch practiced law for a period in Jacksonville, Florida, where he saw firsthand the unconstitutionality of segregation practices in the region. In 1928, McCulloch moved back to his home state and established a law practice with George Barry in Piqua, Ohio.

While residing in Piqua, McCulloch became active in politics. A member of the Republican Party, McCulloch was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1932. During his tenure, McCulloch rose to important leadership positions, serving as House Minority Leader from 1936-1939, and as Speaker of the House from 1939-1944. He was the first House member to serve three consecutive terms as Speaker.

McCulloch was a constitutional lawyer. He showed his passion for equal rights early in his career and supported the local NAACP Chapter in its drive to end segregated seating in local restaurants. One of the earliest sit-ins in the area was held at the Union Bus Terminal lunch counter and marked the beginning of the end for segregated accommodations in the Piqua area. This was bold stance to take in a rural, white, middle-class, and conservative stronghold where the black population was a mere 2.7 percent at the time.

During World War II, McCulloch served in the U.S. military from December 26, 1943 to October 12, 1945. Although already 40 years old at the time, he resigned as Speaker of the House and enlisted in the U.S. Army serving overseas in Europe. Following the war, he resumed his political career.

In a special election held on November 4, 1947, voters of Ohio's 4th District elected McCulloch to represent them in the United States House of Representatives, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of Robert F. Jones. McCulloch went on to represent western Ohio in the House in twelve succeeding Congresses through January 3, 1973. He was popular and respected within his district, and his constituents reelected him by margins of 65 to 70 percent throughout his tenure. McCulloch was one of the few Congressmen who never used his entire office allowance, and every year returned the unused funds to the U.S. Treasury.

Although a political conservative, McCulloch is remembered as a champion of civil rights. Early in his tenure as Representative of Ohio’s 4th District, he played a key role in President Eisenhower’s 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills. As the ranking Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee in the early 1960s, he introduced civil rights legislation in the House, and his bipartisan support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was instrumental in the adoption of that legislation. Representing the Kennedy administration, Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall traveled to Piqua in July of 1963, and in a meeting in McCulloch’s law office, cemented the commitment for a bipartisan civil rights bill that would not, as had happened in 1960, be weakened by the Senate. President Kennedy stated, "Without him [the bill] can't be done.� McCulloch’s support for the bill insured the essential Republican leadership votes in the House. His approval of each of the Senate amendments to the bill was obtained as part of the commitment to the strong legislation he wanted to achieve. When the bill returned to the House for the final vote before being sent to President Lyndon Johnson, McCulloch received a rare standing ovation and a round of floor speeches in recognition of his leadership. President Lyndon Johnson publicly recognized McCulloch as "the most important and powerful force" in the enactment of the bill.

McCulloch went on to play key roles in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, as well as the 1968 Fair Housing Act, continually fighting for his belief in the Constitution and its provisions for equal rights for all Americans While he championed civil rights legislation, McCulloch believed in limited government and fiscal integrity. He often opposed large spending programs, some of which were included in President Johnson’s Great Society initiative.

McCulloch fought another major battle in 1969-1970 by defending the renewal of certain temporary provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act during the Nixon administration. Directed at Southern states with a history of discriminatory voting practices, a strong provision in the legislation demanded that these states obtain clearance through the Justice Department before making any changes that would affect the voting process. The Nixon Administration argued for cutting back on the provision, while McCulloch fought for its retention in a still volatile voting environment. McCulloch and his legislative allies succeeded in keeping the landmark bill intact, echoing his belief as stated on the House floor before the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that “no statutory law can completely end discrimination. Intelligent work and vigilance by members of all races will be required for many years before discrimination completely disappears… To create hope of immediate and complete success can only promote conflict and result in brooding despair.� McCulloch continued to champion equal rights and to protect the landmark legislation of the 1960s until his retirement in 1972.

McCulloch died in Washington, D.C., on February 22, 1980. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. While McCulloch was alive, he received numerous honors and belonged to several important organizations, including the Congressional Distinguished Service Award, the President's Commission on Government Security, the President's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Commission), and the President's National Advisory Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. He received awards from the AFL-CIO and from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in 1964 for his role in the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from The Ohio State University in 1972 for his singular and essential contribution to the passage of civil rights legislation of 1964, 1965, and 1968. In 1971, he received the Ohio Governor’s Award for the “Advancement of the Prestige of Ohio.� At his retirement in 1972, Democrats, Republicans, and the press praised him for his leadership and stand on principle. In 1995, McCulloch was inducted into the Piqua Civic Hall of Fame, and in July, 2009, the Piqua Public Square was renamed in his honor.

See Also


  1. McCULLOCH, William Moore, (1901 - 1980). Http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=M000393%22
  2. Cong. Rec. 22 Oct. 1965: 28911.
  3. Cong. Rec. 14 June 1971:19555.
  4. Cong. Rec. 1 Feb. 1972: 2130.
  5. Cong. Rec. 12 Oct. 1972: 35651.
  6. Cong. Rec. 18 Oct. 1972: 37051-37053.
  7. Whalen, Charles W., and Barbara Whalen. The Longest Debate: a A Legislative History of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Cabin John, MD: Seven Locks, 1985. Print. Press, 1989.