Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005  

Analysis: GOP not party of civil rights

One of the most disingenuous ploys I see by people on the Right is the claim that the Republican Party is the party of civil rights. Persons who pull it rely on their audience not being able to distinguish between the Civil War era Republican Party and the contemporary GOP. The fatuous claim crops up so often that I believe it needs to be considered.

The Republican Party of the Civil War (1861-1864) and Reconstruction (1865-1877) was opposed to slavery and the terrorism that followed it. That party supported the rights of freemen and nonracist white Southerners to full participation in society, including suffrage for all men. Reconstruction failed, mainly because the federal government stopped supporting it. The sharecropping system, Jim Crow and then segregation de jure rose to replace slavery. Most Southern whites either backed those practices or acquiesced in them. The Republican Party lost support as blacks were locked out of voting, often under threat of death, and whites deserted it. In its wake, most voters in the South (white, of course) became Democrats.

As early as the 1940s, some leaders the national Democratic Party openly opposed some aspects of discrimination. Southern leaders, segregationists almost to a man, threatened to bolt the party for that reason. In 1948, Strom Thurmond ran for president as a third-party candidate for the States Rights' Democratic Party. The monicker applied to some Southern Democrats from then on was 'Dixiecrats' -- white Southerners who were Democrats, but opposed to desegregation, which the national party would increasingly support. Thurmond also wrote the Southern Manifesto, the position paper of white Southerners who opposed integration, in 1956. George Wallace would repeat Thurmond's gestures in the 1960s and 1970s.

By the 1960s, desegregation had become real, instead of just a threat. The Republican Party courted angry white voters who were opposed to integration and other changes in the status quo. The term to describe that courtship came to be known as the Southern Strategy. It was and continues to be very successful. Most Southern whites have switched from being Democrats to being Republicans, either literally or by being reared in now Republican families. The GOP could not win its races nationally without them. Georgia is the most recent state to become Republican dominated. Its current governor, Sonny Perdue, was elected partly on the basis of support from still segregationist neo-Confederates.

To summarize, the Democrats lost the Dixiecrats to the Republicans. Politicians such as Thurmond, Perdue and Trent Lott abandoned the Democratic Party for the GOP. When the current aging leadership passes the baton, it will be to a new generation of conservative Southern whites who have always been Republicans. It is now the GOP that is the standard bearer for those who oppose racial equality. Black voters support the Democrats by close to 90 percent of the vote. Other minorities also vote Democrat most of the time.

Whenever I see the 'Republicans are the party of civil rights' claim being made, I wonder if the person making it is purposely trying to mislead others or just plain stupid. The only way one could not know that claim is false is not to know that the Democrats became more inclusive from the civil rights era on, while the GOP regressed. The Democrats are flawed. But, in regard to supporting civil rights for all Americans, they leave the GOP in the dust.

What's the art?

Gov. Purdue won election by saying he opposed the Georgia flag that had replaced the the 1956 version favored by segregationists. The current flag, pictured, is a compromise.

Reasonably related

A capsule history of the Southern Strategy can be read here.

posted by J. | 11:30 PM