Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2002 / 15 Teves, 5763
Time to tell the truth: The great movement of blacks to the Democratic Party took place for economic reasons, not because of civil rights
"It was Inauguration Day. Washington rang with happy Rebel Yells, while
bands all over town played 'Dixie.' An associate of the new president warned
that since the South ran the nation, Negroes should expect to be treated as
a servile race."
This is not fanciful speculation about what things might have been like had
Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats prevailed in 1948. It is historian Lawrence
Friedman's description of the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
Wilson. Intellectual. Pacifist idealist. Democrat. Bigot.
In the old South, support for segregation spanned the ideological spectrum.
Some segregationists, like Thurmond and John Stennis of Mississippi, were
conservatives. Others, like William Fulbright of Arkansas and Albert Gore
Sr. of Tennessee, were liberals. But every segregationist who ever served in
Congress was a Democrat. It's important to keep this mind as calumny is
heaped on the Republican Party because of the indefensible remark of soon to
be ex-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.
Northern Democrats deserve commendation for supporting civil rights. But
rarely did that support extend to political discomfort. The Dixiecrats were
welcomed back into the Democratic fold with open arms. Democrats never
denied a segregationist a committee chairmanship or a leadership position
because of his noxious views on race. No Democrat has ever been punished for
making a racist remark. Lott, who is about to lose his job, probably wishes
he were still a Democrat.
The great movement of blacks to the Democratic Party took place for
economic reasons, not because of civil rights. Harry Truman deserves praise
for standing by the platform plank that caused the Dixiecrats to walk out,
and for integrating the Armed Forces. But it clearly was Republican Tom
Dewey who had the most "progressive" views on race. That mattered less to
most black voters that year than New Deal programs.
About a third of blacks voted for Richard Nixon in 1960. But another
migration took place after Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for
president that year, voted against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. A
founder of the NAACP in Arizona, Goldwater was a vehement foe of
segregation. But he was also an ardent libertarian. He thought two of the
seven major provisions of the bill - on housing and public accomodation -
were unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusions by the federal government
into private affairs.
The speed and relative ease with which these provisions were implemented
indicate Goldwater was wrong. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Hubert Humphrey
of Minnesota, also was wrong when he said they would not lead to racial
quotas and reverse discrimination.
Liberal commentators like to overlook the fact that Goldwater's position was
a distinct minority within the GOP. More than 80 percent of Republicans in
the House and Senate voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting
Rights Act of 1965.
After Goldwater's vote, Strom Thurmond crossed the aisle. But he was the
only prominent Dixiecrat in Congress to do so. The others remained Democrats
in good standing.
Thurmond was joining the Republicans. The Republicans weren't joining him.
And while Thurmond the Democrat had a detestable record on race, that of
Thurmond the Republican is pretty good. He was among the first of Southern
senators to hire blacks for his staff. He supported blacks for judgeships.
He voted for extension of the Voting Rights Act.
A principal difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans
see people as individuals, while Democrats view them chiefly as members of
groups. Republicans stand for equal justice under law, and oppose all forms
of racism. The benign racism of racial quotas is much less pernicious than
the malign racism of segregation. But it's still racism.
The Democratic Party, the party of slavery and segregation, has a guilty
past. The Republican Party, which was founded explicitly to fight slavery,
and which has remained true to its founding principles, does not.
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© 2002, Jack Kelly