Republicans and Civil Rights
written by Diane Alden 12/14/02 (shared with written permission)
Republicans, conservatives and constitutionalists always find themselves on the defensive in regard to civil rights issues. No matter what they do, will do or have ever done, the left, Democrats and contrarians demonize them as racists.
By demonizing Republicans and conservatives the left can continue to impose the big lie, which will be accepted as gospel by minorities, whom Democrats believe “owe” them.
For the Record
At the 100th birthday party of former segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, Sen. Trent Lott oozed flattery and camaraderie and said that it might have been a good thing if Thurmond had become president when he ran in 1948.
I don’t like Trent Lott, mostly for reasons having to do with public policy and his limp-wristed behavior as a Senate majority leader. It is true that Lott should have known better. The politically correct police just wait for Republicans to say dumb things and Lott obliged them. One more time Republicans are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
But after all, Lott was a Democrat when he was a young guy making foolish statements at the University of Mississippi. You would be hard-pressed to find a single Republican in any Southern school of that era.
Like many middle-aged Southerners of his generation, as a youth he was not an exemplary champion of civil rights. Nonetheless, Lott continues to get elected to the U.S. Senate from Mississippi by a significant number of blacks in addition to whites.
Perhaps it is the rural nature of the state. Perhaps it is that rural blacks do not make a profession of holding grudges against whites who made statements or did things in their youth that they have come to regret.
Never forget that Bill Clinton went to Moscow during the Vietnam War and gave aid and comfort to the enemy. Never forget his unabashed hatred of the military, which was reflected in his remarks as an anti-war protester. The people who voted for him forgave him, twice.
In any event, since there has not been major civil rights legislation since the ’60s, it is disingenuous to predict how Lott would have voted.
Unfortunately, the left believes if you don’t vote for massive transfer payments from one group to another or high taxes, then you must be a racist. If you don’t believe in preference for any group of Americans or the expansion of government programs, then you must be racist.
Lott is guilty of a great many things, but being a racist is not one of them. Now, if Democrats want to beat up on Lott because he continually exhibits foot-in-mouth disease, Lott will have to stand behind a whole bunch of Democrats who have said and done far worse.
Republicans on the Record
What does the record say about Republicans and the battle for civil rights and specifically for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-352)?
Since Abraham Lincoln, Republicans have been there for blacks when it counted. Nevertheless, Democrats invariably take all the credit for the success of the civil rights movement and invariably fail to give any credit to Republicans.
In fact, the civil rights movement was not about politics. Nor was it about which politicians did what and which political party should take the most credit. When it came to civil rights, America’s politicians merely saw the handwriting on the wall and wrote the legislation to make into federal law the historical changes that had already taken place. There was nothing else they could do.
The movement of blacks to the North, as well as their contributions as fighting men in the world wars, plus the hard work of millions of blacks and their families and churches, along with the efforts of many private groups and individuals made the civil rights movement succeed.
Civil rights for blacks found its historical moment after 1945. Bills introduced in Congress regarding employment policy brought the issue of civil rights to the attention of representatives and senators.
In 1945, 1947 and 1949, the House of Representatives voted to abolish the poll tax restricting the right to vote. Although the Senate did not join in this effort, the bills signaled a growing interest in protecting civil rights through federal action.
The executive branch of government, by presidential order, likewise became active by ending discrimination in the nation’s military forces and in federal employment and work done under government contract.
Harry Truman ordered the integration of the military. However, his Republican opponent in the election of 1948, Tom Dewey, was just as strong a proponent for that effort as any Democrat.
As a matter of fact, the record shows that since 1933 Republicans had a more positive record on civil rights than the Democrats.
In the 26 major civil rights votes after 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil rights legislation in over 80 percent of the votes. By contrast, the Republican majority favored civil rights in over 96 percent of the votes.
[See https://www.congresslink.org/civil/essay.html and https://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1982/3/82.03.04.x.html.]
It was appalling the other day to watch former Democratic Senator Bob Kerry totally gloss over Republican efforts in the name of civil rights. He implied that Lott’s foot-in-mouth statement was representative of Republican views about civil rights since forever.
Kerry knows better. Yet being a loyal and predictable Democrat, Kerry can create the big lie with the best of them. The media are so in sync with that effort that they don’t challenge him.
Kerry also maintained that all the Dixiecrats became Republicans shortly after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, another big lie. Richard Russell, Mendell Rivers, Clinton’s mentor William Fulbright, Robert Byrd, Fritz Hollings and Al Gore Sr. remained Democrats till their dying day.
Most of the Dixiecrats did not become Republicans. They created the Dixiecrats and then, when the civil rights movement succeeded, they returned to the Democratic fold. It was not till much later, with a new, younger breed of Southerner and the thousands of Northerners moving into the South, that Republicans began to make gains.
I know. I was there.
When I moved to Georgia in 1970, the Democratic Party had a total lock on Georgia. Newt Gingrich was one of the first “outsiders” to break that lock. He did so in a West Georgia area into which many Northerners were moving. He gained the support of rural West Georgians over issues that had absolutely nothing to do with race.
In fact, very few party switches came about right after the Civil Rights Act was passed. Some exceptions who did switch were Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.
Democrats like Bob Kerry will lie about Republicans but won’t tell you some facts about the heroes and icons of their own party. One of their major icons was not always Sir Galahad jousting in the name of civil rights. His name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
JFK – The Reluctant Civil Rights President
JFK evolved into a true believer in the civil rights movement when it became such an overwhelming historical and moral imperative that he had no choice. As a matter of record, when Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts, he had an opportunity to vote on the 1957 Civil Rights Act pushed by Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson. Instead, he voted to send it to the conservative Senate Judiciary Committee, where it would have been pigeonholed.
His lukewarm support for theAct included his vote to allow juries to hear contempt cases. Dixiecrats preferred the jury system to trials presided over and decided by judges because all-white juries rarely convicted white civil rights violators.
His record in the 1950s did not mark Kennedy as a civil rights activist. Yet the 1957Act to benefit African-Americans was passed with the help of Republicans. It was a watered- down version of the later 1964 bill, which Kennedy backed.
The record on JFK shows he was a man of his times and a true politician, more given to equivocation and pragmatism than to activism. Kennedy outlined civil rights legislation only after most of the country was behind it and ready for him to act.
For the most part, in the 1960 presidential campaign he avoided the civil rights issue altogether. He did endorse some kind of federal action, but he could not afford to antagonize Southern Democrats, whose support he desperately needed to defeat Richard Nixon. Basically, he could not jeopardize the political support of the Dixiecrats and many politicians in the rest of the country who were concerned about the radical change that was in the offing.
After he was elected president, Kennedy failed to suggest any new civil rights proposals in 1961 or 1962. That failure was for pragmatic political reasons and so that he could get the rest of his agenda passed.
Introducing specific civil rights legislation in the Senate would have meant a filibuster and the obstruction of other business he felt was just as crucial as civil rights legislation. A filibuster would have happened for sure and it would have taken 67 members to support cloture to end such a filibuster. Sixty-seven votes Kennedy believed he did not have.
As it was, Kennedy had other fish to fry, including the growing threat of Russian imperialism, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Bay of Pigs as Cuba went down the communist rat hole, his increase in the numbers of troops and advisers he was sending to Vietnam, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In addition, the steel business was in crisis and he needed a major tax rate cut to stimulate a sluggish economy. Kennedy understood his options and he chose to be realistic.
When Kennedy did act in June 1963 to propose a civil rights bill, it was because the climate of opinion and the political situation forced him to act.
The climate of opinion had changed dramatically between World War II and 1964. Various efforts by groups of Protestant and Catholic clergy, along with the Urban League, NAACP, Congress of Racial Equality, black activists, individuals both white and black and, of course, Martin Luther King Jr., as well as other subsets of his movement, are what forced civil rights to be crafted into federal law.
The National Opinion Research Center discovered that by 1963 the number of Americans who approved neighborhood integration had risen 30 percent in 20 years, to 72 percent. Americans supporting school integration had risen even more impressively, to 75 percent.
The efforts of politicians were needed to write all the changes and efforts into law. Politicians did not lead charge on civil rights – again, they just took credit, especially the Democrats.
The 1964 Civil Rights Act
When all the historical forces had come together, Kennedy decided to act. John Kennedy began the process of gaining support for the legislation in a nationally televised address on June 11, 1963.
Gathering business and religious leaders and telling the more violent activists in the black leadership to tone down the confrontational aspects of the movement, Kennedy outlined the Civil Rights Act. In it, the Justice Department was given the responsibility of addressing the worst problems of racial discrimination.
Because of the problem with a possible Senate filibuster, which would be imposed by Southern Democrats, the diverse aspects of theAct were first dealt with in the House of Representatives. The roadblock would be that Southern senators chaired both the Judiciary and the Commerce committees.
Kennedy and LBJ understood that a bipartisan coalition of Republicans and Northern Democrats was the key to the bill’s final success.
Remember that the Republicans were the minority party at the time. Nonetheless, H.R.7152 passed the House on Feb. 10, 1964. Of the 420 members who voted, 290 supported the civil rights bill and 130 opposed it.
Republicans favored the bill 138 to 34; Democrats supported it 152-96. Republicans supported it in higher proportions than Democrats. Even though those Democrats were Southern segregationists, without Republicans the bill would have failed. Republicans were the other much-needed leg of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Man From Illinois
In the Senate, Hubert Humphrey was the point man for the Civil Rights Act. That is not unusual considering the Democrats held both houses of Congress and the presidency.
Sen. Thomas Kuchel of California led the Republican pro-civil rights forces. But it became clear who among the Republicans was going to get the job done; that man was conservative Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen.
He was the master key to victory for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Without him and the Republican vote, theAct would have been dead in the water for years to come. LBJ and Humphrey knew that without Dirksen the Civil Rights Act was going nowhere.
Dirksen became a tireless supporter, suffering bouts of ill health because of his efforts in behalf of crafting and passing the Civil Rights Act. Nonetheless, Sen. Dirksen suffered the same fate as many Republicans and conservatives do today.
Even though Dirksen had an exemplary voting record in support of bills furthering the cause of African-Americans, activist groups in Illinois did not support Dirksen for re-election to the Senate in 1962.
Believing that Dirksen could be forced into voting for the Civil Rights Act, they demonstrated and picketed and there were threats by CORE to continue demonstrations and violence against Dirksen’s offices in Illinois. James Farmer of CORE stated that “people will march en masse to the post offices there to file handwritten letters” in protest.
Dirksen blew it off in a statement typical of him: “When the day comes that picketing, distress, duress, and coercion can push me from the rock of conviction, that is the day that I shall gather up my togs and walk out of here and say that my usefulness in the Senate has come to an end.”
Dirksen began the tactical arrangements for passage of the bill. He organized Republican support by choosing floor captains for each of the bill’s seven sections.
The Republican “swing” votes were from rural states without racial problems and so were uncommitted. The floor captains and Dirksen himself created an imperative for these rural Republicans to vote in favor of cloture on filibuster and then for the Act itself.
As they worked through objections to the bill, Dirksen explained his goal as “first, to get a bill; second, to get an acceptable bill; third, to get a workable bill; and, finally, to get an equitable bill.”
In any event, there were still 52 days of filibuster and five negotiation sessions. Senators Dirksen and Humphrey, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy agreed to propose a “clean bill” as a substitute for H. R. 7152. Senators Dirksen, Mansfield, Humphrey and Kuchel would cosponsor the substitute.
This agreement did not mean the end of the filibuster, but it did provide Dirksen with a compromise measure, which was crucial to obtain the support of the “swing” Republicans.
On June 17, the Senate voted by a 76 to 18 margin to adopt the bipartisan substitute worked out by Dirksen in his office in May and to give the bill its third reading. Two days later, the Senate passed the bill by a 73 to 27 roll call vote. Six Republicans and 21 Democrats held firm and voted against passage.
In all, the 1964 civil rights debate had lasted a total of 83 days, slightly over 730 hours, and had taken up almost 3,000 pages in the Congressional Record.
On May 19, Dirksen called a press conference told the gathering about the moral need for a civil rights bill. On June 10, 1964, with all 100 senators present, Dirksen rose from his seat to address the Senate. By this time he was very ill from the killing work he had put in on getting the bill passed. In a voice reflecting his fatigue, he still spoke from the heart:
“There are many reasons why cloture should be invoked and a good civil rights measure enacted. It is said that on the night he died, Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment, ‘Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.’ The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing of government, in education, and in employment. It must not be stayed or denied.”
After the civil rights bill was passed, Dirksen was asked why he had done it. What could possibly be in it for him given the fact that the African-Americans in his own state had not voted for him? Why should he champion a bill that would be in their interest? Why should he offer himself as a crusader in this cause?
Dirksen’s reply speaks well for the man, for Republicans and for conservatives like him: “I am involved in mankind, and whatever the skin, we are all included in mankind.”
The bill was signed into law by President Johnson on July 2, 1964.
There is a line from a movie which I have remembered since I first heard it. In the movie, a young doctor failed to get credit or recognition for a heroic act. A friend asked him if that bothered him. The young man’s reply was “There will never be any credit for me, there will just be the next thing to do.”
Credit may be given to Sen. Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota for being the loudest voice in support for legislation in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Credit may be given to LBJ for pushing legislation.
However, without the leadership and help of Republicans, who had voted for bills to help minorities for decades before 1964, any Democratic Party legislative effort would have been watered down or failed because of obstinate
Democrats – i.e., the Dixiecrats.
Neither political party, however, has the right to claim it was responsible for making civil rights for African-Americans happen. Changing times and the efforts of blacks themselves, plus the thousands of electronic pictures blazing across the screens on national television, finally brought it home to white America that injustices were being done to their brethren who happened to be black.
The fact that Democrats are quick to take credit for the Civil Rights Act and for the civil rights movement itself is both phony and a self-absorbed vanity.
The Democrats and the press can continue to make a big deal of Lott’s statement spoken to honor Strom Thurmond on his 100th birthday. Like George Wallace and others, Thurmond and Lott grew as men. They grew out of their times and their situation. They apologized for their former beliefs and they acted on that change of heart and have done so time and time again.
Democrats do themselves no good by taking credit for the civil rights movement or for legislation that came out of it. If they do that, they also must take the blame for the failures of the policies of dependence which they created and which choked the life out of the African-American culture and family life.
If African-Americans ever do vote for Republicans or conservatives, I hope they do so because they finally realize that though conservatives don’t have all the answers, they do have enough faith in people to allow them the freedom to find the answers for themselves.
Diane Alden (shared with written permission)