Monday, January 17, 2011

White Backlash in the 1966 Off-Year Elections

I am a coauthor of an updated version of the college American history textbook, currently titled "American Dreams & Reality: A Retelling of the American Story." In this passage, I describe the white backlash to perceived lawlessness in the mid-1960s and the Republican comeback in the 1966 off-year elections.

The race riots from 1965 to 1967, and the emergence of groups like the Black Panthers, became a final, decisive factor in shattering the liberal consensus forged by the national Democratic Party from the time of Franklin Roosevelt until the middle of Lyndon Johnson’s one full term as president. News stories of rising crime rates prompted fears about personal safety among middle-class and working-class whites. Rulings from the federal bench that seemed to favor defendants’ rights over those of victims made increasingly conservative white Americans angry over the alleged coddling of criminals.

Meanwhile, many white Americans who had served in World War II and the Korean War resented the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations that had spread across the country from 1965 to 1967. Increased drug use among young people, and a more frankly secular and sexualized mass media made socially conservative whites worry that their control of the culture was slipping away and that the country was sliding into anti-patriotic decadence.

The urban riots, for some middle-class and working-class whites, served as a final straw. To many resentful whites, some openly embracing racism, politicians like Johnson had created welfare programs and handed greater political power to an ungrateful black population that wanted government handouts rather than jobs. The first signs of this white backlash came as early as 1964 when an avowed segregationist governor like Wallace could do so well in Democratic Party primaries held in states north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Also, that year, 65 percent of California voters approved Proposition 14, a measure previously passed by the state legislature that overturned a fair housing law banning home sellers from discriminating against racial minorities. (Both the California and then the United States Supreme Court later overturned Proposition 14.) In 1965 and 1966, grassroots conservative movements spread across the country. College campuses were homes not just to civil rights activists and anti-war protestors, but also to Young Republican clubs. White anger found its voice in the successful 1966 California gubernatorial campaign of former actor Ronald Reagan, who overwhelmingly defeated liberal incumbent Democratic Gov. Pat Brown, carrying almost 58 percent of the vote.

The off-year congressional elections that year were a disaster for Johnson and the Democrats. That November, 27 of the 48 Democratic House freshmen elected as part of Johnson’s 1964 landslide lost office. Of the 10 new governors elected that fall, nine were Republicans, and the GOP now controlled 12 of 13 Western state legislatures. The number of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans increased. The conservative coalition in Congress – made up of segregationist Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans – doubled after the 1966 elections. The now former governor of California Pat Brown was certain why he and other Democrats had been drubbed. “Whether we like it or not, people want a separation of the races,” he said. “Maybe they feel Lyndon Johnson has given them [blacks] too much. People can only accept so much and then they regurgitate.”


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

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