Republicans, Democrats, and race: an uneasy history: in 1948, Southern Democrats rebelled against their party's civil rights agenda. Many of them later joined the party of Lincoln. (times past).
In a fiery speech that would echo through American politics for the next 50 years, he urged Democrats to "get out of the shadow of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights."
It was not a politically easy position for the Democrats to take. In fact, it tore the party asunder. Almost immediately, a group of Southerners opposed to the party's new civil-rights platform broke away and formed a new party known as the Dixiecrats. Ultimately, in the decades that followed, the Democrats' decision to push for civil-rights legislation cost them the support of many white Southerners and was a key factor in the Republican Party's growing dominance in the region.
The issue of how America's two main political parties have dealt with race is still a potent one, as Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi discovered. He resigned under pressure from his leadership post in December after appearing to praise the Dixiecrats and their 1948 presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond.
THE SOUTHERN WAY
In 1948, blacks and whites were segregated across the South--kept apart in schools, hotels, restaurants, and other public places. Some of the staunchest defenders of segregation in the South were Democrats, many of them members of Congress.
They asserted that segregation was simply the Southern way of life, protected by "states' rights." The federal government, these Southern Democrats maintained, had no right to dismantle it.
Still, spurred on by Humphrey and other Northern liberals, the delegates to the 1948 Democratic Convention adopted a platform that called for equal opportunity in the workplace, in politics, and in the military. The reaction from Southern Democrats was fast and furious.
Within days, some of them met in Birmingham, Alabama, to form their own party and mount their own presidential campaign. They called themselves the States' Rights Democratic Party, or the Dixiecrats, and their presidential nominee was a prominent Governor from the region, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.
Their platform was defiant, predicting that the Democrats' civil-rights program would "be utterly destructive of the social, economic, and political life of the Southern people."
Thurmond was even more defiant on the campaign trail. "I want to tell you that there's not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and churches," he declared.
Representative John Lewis, a black Congressman from Atlanta, Georgia, and a civil-rights veteran, was a child in Alabama when the Dixiecrats launched their campaign. He describes that era of white resistance as a time of "tremendous fear" for blacks.
Though he received only 2.4 percent of the vote nationwide, Thurmond carried four of the five Deep South states--Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama (and came in second in the fifth state, Georgia). He won an estimated 92 percent of the white vote in Mississippi, and 84 percent in Alabama, according to political scientists Merle Black and Earl Black, who described the campaign in their book The Vital South.
The Dixiecrats had hoped to show the Democratic Party that it could not win the White House without the South on board. Despite that, the Democrats' nominee, President Harry Truman, was re-elected. But the Dixiecrats' rebellion marked the beginning of a deep schism between the south and the Democratic Party, which traced its origins to the Democratic-Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.
Before the party's embrace of civil rights, the "Solid South" had been one of the most reliable features of American politics. For generations, the region had delivered huge majorities for Democratic presidential nominees. The Republicans, whose party originated in the antislavery movement of the 1850s, were still widely hated as the party of the triumphant North, which had defeated and humiliated the South in the Civil War.
But the alliance between rural Southern writes and the Democrats grew increasingly strained over the race issue, Merle Black says. By 1964, when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act that desegregated the South, the political implications were clear. After signing the law, Johnson told an aide, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come."
That year, Thurmond (who had rejoined the Democrats and had been elected to the Senate) became a Republican. That same year, Barry Goldwater, a Republican presidential candidate who opposed the civil-rights bill, carried all five Deep South states, winning an estimated 71 percent of the votes cast by whites there, according to The Vital South. By contrast, four years earlier, another Republican presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, had done half as well in the region.
While many Southern whites now backed Republicans, the Democrats could count on heavy support from black voters, who after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were finally able to fully participate in politics. Their influence, however, was often outweighed by the larger numbers of white voters.
Modern Republicans--who often call themselves "The Party of Abraham Lincoln"--resent the idea that their party has benefitted from a white backlash to the civil-rights movement. Indeed, many other factors besides race played a role in the Republican realignment, historians and political scientists say. Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative group, and a Southerner himself, says, "Southerners by nature tend to be more conservative fiscally. They tend to look less toward the federal government as the source of all blessings and the solution to all problems, and place a greater emphasis on the role of the states." But the Democrats clearly paid a price for their stand on civil-rights.
SHADOW OF THE PAST
The tortured history of race in American politics helps explain the firestorm that erupted after Lott, at a party for Thurmond in December, declared that he was proud that Mississippi had voted for Thurmond in 1948. He also suggested the country would have been better off had other states done the same.
Lott insisted that he was merely praising an old colleague, not segregation. But the storm grew until he relinquished his Republican leadership job. The events of 1948 still echoed.
Democrats' Pro-Civil Rights Stand Drove Many in the South. Into the Republican Party
* Are racial issues discussed in your school or community?
* Should Senator Trent Lott have been forced from his majority leader post for making what appeared to be pro-segregation remarks?
* Do you agree with Robin Toner that the events of 1948 still echo?
To help students understand the changing roles that the major political parties have played in the evolution of race relations in America.
BACKGROUND: Humphrey's speech did not just happen. African-American troops who returned home after fighting for democracy abroad in World War II were angry to find democracy denied them at home. There was a growing sense among many political leaders that things had to change.
POLITICAL IRONY: Students should understand the evolution of the Democratic and Republican parties. Remind them that Democrats trace their party to Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, while Republicans trace their party to Abraham Lincoln, President of the U.S. during the Civil War and author of the Emancipation Proclamation.
HANDOUTS: Make copies of the 15th Amendment and the first paragraph of the 14th Amendment and distribute to students. Tell students that the amendments were drafted by Republicans in Congress as part of the reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. Ask students what the amendments imply about the social condition of African-Americans at that time.
CRITICAL THINKING: This article is a reminder that historic events can shape people's Values for generations. Note that the uproar produced by Hubert Humphrey's "bright sunshine" speech came 83 years after the Civil War. (The 1964 Civil Rights Act was not passed until 99 years after the war.)
Ask students to analyze Humphrey's allusion to the "shadow of states' rights." Did racial segregation, protected by states' rights, violate the "equal protection of the laws" clause in the 14th Amendment and the right to vote granted by the 15th Amendment?
Students should understand that racial segregation, though not enforced by law, was also present in the North. Some of the worst racial protests occurred in Boston, after a 1974 court ruling ordered white and black students bused to schools in each other's neighborhoods.
Upfront QUIZ 4 MULTIPLE CHOICE DIRECTIONS: Circle the letter next to the correct answer.
1. In 1948, Minneapolis mayor Hubert H. Humphrey delivered a historic speech in which he urged his party to honor human rights and "get out of the shadow of
a states' rights."
b white rights."
c majority rights."
d moneyed-class rights."
2. Many Southern Democrats, angered by their party's call for racial integration, formed a new party called the
a Southern Democrats.
d New Deal Democrats.
3. Democrats won the 1948 presidential race with candidate
a Franklin D. Roosevelt.
b Harry S. Truman.
c Thomas E. Dewey.
d Adlai E. Stevenson.
4. Before 1948, southern Democrats reviled the Republican Party, which they associated with
a the banking industry.
c a bias against agricultural states.
d the Northern victory in the Civil War.
5. In 1964, the sweeping Civil Rights Act was pushed through Congress by President
a John F. Kennedy.
b Lyndon B. Johnson.
c Jimmy Carter.
d Richard M. Nixon.
6. In 1965, a new law finally gave all African-Americans the fight to
b attend public schools.
c buy property.
d travel freely.
ANSWER KEY Upfront Quiz 4, page 6
1. (a) states' rights."
2. (c) Dixiecrats.
3. (b) Harry S. Truman.
4. (d) the Northern victory in the Civil War.
5. (b) Lyndon B. Johnson.
6. (a) vote.
ROBIN TONER is a national correspondent in the Washington bureau of The New York Times.
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|Publication:||New York Times Upfront|
|Date:||Feb 21, 2003|
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