Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Where Are You, Tim Tebow?


According to The Raw Story, the International Labor Rights Forum (ILRF) will run an ad on a jumbotron screen just outside Lucas Oil Stadium In Indianapolis during the Super Bowl called “Hershey’s Chocolate: Kissed by Child Labor. ” The ad will highlight Hershey's exploitation of child slave labor in West African nations like the Cote d’Ivoire.  Such children, who suffer beatings and are denied even a rudimentary education, are literally bought from their parents and chained in huts at so they won't escape.  I am wondering why Denver Bronocs quarterback Tim Tebow, who loves flashing his Christian virtue in public and who starred in an anti-abortion ad broadcast during last year's Super Bowl, hasn't given his superstar name to a cause like this?  For more information, please visit the following websites:

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/01/30/hersheys-targeted-in-super-bowl-ad-for-alleged-african-child-slave-labor/

http://www.laborrights.org/stop-child-labor/cocoa-campaign


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.



Intellectual Theft

The band Rage Against the Machine wants their cool back, Sarah Palin.




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.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Books You Might Have Missed: A Review of "Mean Things Happening in this Land: The Life and Times of H. L. Mitchell, Co-founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union"


Mean Things Happening in this Land: The Life and Times of H. L. Mitchell, Co-founder of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union. By H. L. Mitchell (1979; rev. ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008. Pp. xviii, 403. Index. $19.95 paper)

A gossipy but compelling autobiography, Mean Things first saw light in a 1979 edition, an era in which historians uncovered the South’s rich and extensive radical past.   Together with James R. Green’s Grassroots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895-1943 (Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press) and Lawrence Goodwyn’s The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America (New York: Oxford University Press), this trio of works revealed that socialists and other leftwing factions enjoyed surprisingly wide support in the former Confederacy from the Populist era through the Great Depression.  The University of Oklahoma Press has issued a 30th anniversary edition of Mitchell’s memoirs, which reveal how willing white sharecroppers and farm tenants in Dixie were to struggle alongside African Americans to overturn the political and economic oppression engineered by large landholders in the first half of the twentieth century.

Mitchell provides an insider’s perspective on the dangers of labor activism in Arkansas, Louisiana, and the rest of the former Confederate states.  His memoir opens with gripping, gruesome account of Scott Lignon’s lynching in Dyersburg, Tennessee in 1917 and never slows down.  Mitchell’s busy life takes him across the Southwest and the Deep South, with sojourns in California, New York and Washington, D.C.  His experiences intersects with a number of celebrities who are colorfully portrayed, including future President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew, labor leaders John L. Lewis and George Meany, and activists like Norman Thomas and Martin Luther King, Jr.  

Throughout, Mitchell maintains a chatty tone and a dry sense of wit, such as when he writes of two friends who maneuvered to be named election clerks during a 1920s campaign in Truman, Arkansas, in which a Klansman ran as a mayoral candidate.  “ . . . [W]hile  Moody cut off the electricity [at the polling location], Charlie switched the ballot box (which had been stuffed by the socialists),” Mitchell writes. “  . . . Later there were accusations, but there was no proof.  The winning mayor gratefully saw to it that Charlie got the night sanitation job.” (p. 40.)

The main contribution of Mitchell’s union may not have been in labor relations.  Too many historians have marked the start of the civil rights movement as the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision in 1954, the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, or the wave of student-led sit-ins across the South in 1960.  The post-World War II movement, however, owes much to the actions of activists in the 1930s and 1940s.  Mitchell makes a convincing case that biracial unions like the STFU laid the groundwork for the later black freedom campaign.  In fact, Mitchell argues that the STFU, with its emphasis on racial cooperation and its representation of the poorest black and white farmers, made a more direct assault on the Southern power structure than did groups like the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Council.  Mitchell’s highly readable autobiography should be of strong interest not just for students and scholars of the labor movement or radical politics but also those concerned with the white and black resistance to Jim Crow in the pre-Brown South. 



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.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Did Black People Become Democrats and Republicans Racists? Part III


Here is the third and final installment on the origins of GOP racism.


As he plotted his political comeback in 1968, former Vice President Richard Nixon watched with intense interest and fear the career of segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who had performed surprisingly well in Northern Democratic primaries in 1964.  Running against an incumbent Democratic president, Wallace won 34 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 30 percent in Indiana, and a shocking 43 percent in Maryland.  Politicians like Wallace, Nixon and former Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan perceived the growing white backlash in the United States, even in places as far from the South as California, where 65 percent of voters in 1964 approved Proposition 14, a measure that overturned a previously passed fair-housing law prohibiting home sellers from discriminating against racial minorities.  In 1964, Wallace found receptive audiences outside the former Confederacy even though his political supporters and volunteers included men and women with ties to the John Birch Society, the Ku Klux Klan and even Neo-Nazi groups.  Not personally an anti-Semite, he sought out alienated white ethnic voters who felt they had lost status to African Americans in Eastern and Midwestern cities. 

As the 1968 presidential season dawned, Wallace sought out disaffected whites across the country as he launched the American Independent Party, a third-party vehicle for his presidential ambitions. “He never treated ethnic Americans of eastern and southern European ancestry with contempt,” Wallace biographer Dan T. Carter noted.  “[H]e embraced them as potential allies who shared his fear of blacks as well as his cultural conservatism.  But just as he had enlisted key Ku Klux Klan leaders in his 1962 gubernatorial campaign, he readily turned to the far right to furnish foot soldiers for the upcoming [1968] presidential campaign, gambling that most of his supporters feared right-wing fanatics far less than they did Communists or Black Power advocates.  And he was right.”  A Detroit newspaper columnist derided Wallace’s supporters as “kooks.”  Wallace scoffed.  “The other side’s got more kooks than we do,” he insisted, adding, “kooks got a right to vote too.”

Wallace successfully tapped into a culture, shaped by Joe McCarthy-era claims of secret communist plots to take over America and doubts over the official conclusions regarding the JFK assassination, increasingly attuned to conspiracy theories.  The race riots that had wracked the country, Wallace claimed, were the product of a sinister plan to destroy America launched by “pointy-headed” bureaucrats in Washington who were taking their orders directly from communist leader Fidel Castro in Cuba.

Nixon watched the Wallace movement in amazement.  The more extreme Wallace sounded, the larger and more enthusiastic his audiences.  Working under stringent ballot access laws authored by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to block third-party access to the ballot, Wallace supporters collected 2.7 million signatures to get the American Independent Party on the ballot in Ohio.  This success was repeated across the country.

Campaigning outside his native state, Wallace had to mask his appeals to anti-black resentment.  He spoke instead in racial code, of lazy people on welfare and the collapse of law and order.  “You people work hard,” he told a white, blue-collar California audience, “you save your money, you teach your children to respect the law.”  Yet, Wallace said, when someone burns down a city and murders someone, “ ‘pseudo-intellectuals’ explain it away by saying the killer didn’t get any watermelon to eat when he was 10 years old.” Furthermore, Wallace claimed, “the Supreme Court is fixing it so you can’t do anything about people who set cities on fire.”   

Wallace also included leftist professors, immoral Hollywood movies and “long-haired hippies” in his list of “sinister forces destroying America.”  Across the land, crowds also cheered his denunciation of the two-party system. “You could put all them [Republican and Democratic politicians] in a Alabama cotton picker’s sack, shake them up and dump them out; take the first one to slide out and put him right back into power and there would be no change,” he told appreciatively jaded listeners. While the Northeast press derided Wallace for his simple-minded and often crude rhetoric, voters found the renegade candidate refreshingly blunt.  “You don’t have to worry about figuring out where he stands,” a steelworker in Youngstown, Ohio, told one reporter.  “He tells it like it really is.”

 Few expected that Wallace could get on the ballot in California, but on January 2, 1968, Wallace announced that he had collected the required 100,000 signatures.  A Gallup Poll at the time showed 11 percent of California voters supporting Wallace for president.  By April, Wallace addressed cheering crowds in the largest Texas cities, in Houston, San Antonio, Lubbock and beyond.  Near Dallas, a Wallace speech drew 15,000, who endured a driving rainstorm while sitting in a high school football stadium.  The warm-up speaker, biographer Carter notes, described Wallace as “America’s divinely appointed savior.”

Across the South, White Citizens Councils, originally formed to oppose school integration, funneled $250,000 to his campaign.  Arch-conservative Western movie star John Wayne reportedly sent the campaign a total of $30,000, the last check supposedly inscribed, “Sock it to ’em, George.”  Dallas billionaire Bunker Hunt (son of the legendarily eccentric, radically right-wing and bigamist Texas oilman H.L. Hunt) provided Wallace up to $300,000.  In the end, the Alabama politician’s amateurish campaign raked in around $9 million in contributions, enough to make his third-party bid competitive. More than 80 percent of Wallace campaign contributions, however, came from small donors who sent $50 or less.  Wallace’s name would be on the ballot in all 50 states that November.

A NEW NIXON

For Nixon, politics was about winning, and in pursuit of victory he proved willing to jettison any previously expressed belief.  The one-time moderate Republican, even as he tried to shed his image as a dirty politician and promote himself as a mature, wise “New Nixon,” sought to market himself during the 1968 campaign as a better-educated, more reasonable version of Wallace.  In private, as would be shown later when Nixon’s taped conversations in the White House became public, the Republican was as likely as Wallace to use the word “nigger,” and, unlike Wallace, Nixon was an anti-Semite.  Sometimes his speeches sounded like slick versions of Wallace’s. 

Nixon reached out to Southern whites, cloaking his appeals to prejudice in legalisms, even as he gave himself enough rhetorical cover to not scare away Northerners.  Frequently, he began speeches reminding audiences that he had embraced the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision, and had backed Johnson’s 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Then he would subtly pivot as he denounced “riots, violence in the street and mob rule.”  In spite of the overwhelmingly disproportionate rate of white violence against blacks, instead of vice versa, Nixon blamed bad race relations on “extremists of both races.”

Nixon mastered Orwellian doublespeak in 1968.  When asked by journalists if his endorsement of an avid Southern segregationist Republican in Mississippi meant he backed Jim Crow, Nixon didn’t deny this but evasively answered, “I will go to any state in the country to campaign for a strong two-party system, whether or not I agree with local Republicans on every issue.” Nixon said he opposed any “segregation plank” in the national Republican platform and even though, he insisted, he was personally opposed to Jim Crow, he criticized Washington dictating to the South what it should do on the issue.

As biographer Rick Perlstein notes of Nixon’s new approach to racial issues, “The cleverness was sublime.  He was ventriloquizing a generation of Southern Lost Cause speechifying about Yankees dictating to Dixie.”  At a Republican Party dinner, Nixon urged both major parties to stop talking about race but to focus on what he called “issues of the future.”  Nixon spent much of 1966 wooing segregationist and former Democrat Sen. Strom Thurmond.  Thurmond became the first of a wave of well-known Southern race-baiting politicians who switched parties after concluding that the national Democratic Party had become too liberal on civil rights and social programs. 

Thurmond had run as a third-party “Dixiecrat” candidate for president in 1948 because of his opposition to a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party’s platform that year. “And I want to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theatres, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches,” Thurmond said in speeches during his 1948 race. His States’ Rights Party included a platform that said, "We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race." In 1957, Thurmond spoke for a record 24 hours and 18 minutes on the floor of the Senate as part of his filibuster to block then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act.  The bill passed in spite of the filibuster.

Nixon anticipated a close race against President Johnson in 1968. Although he publicly dismissed the impact of a likely Wallace presidential bid, Nixon privately worried that he would lose the votes of white Southern conservatives to the former Alabama governor.  Nixon saw getting the support of Thurmond as a key to winning over that Southern right-wing constituency. 

By the time of his party switch, Thurmond had moderated his language, but not his attitudes, on race, which gave Nixon an opening to stand side-by-side with the pro-Jim Crow icon.  “In the years after his 1948 presidential campaign, he modulated his rhetoric and shifted the focus of his grim maledictions to the ‘eternal menace of godless, atheistic Communism,’” Carter wrote.  “He had even learned (when pressed) to pronounce the word ‘Negro’ without eliciting grimaces from his northern fellow Republicans.  But race remained his subtext: he continued to red-bait every spokesman for civil rights from Whitney Young of the Urban League to Stokely Carmichael of the Black Panthers.  For the traditional southern campaign chorus of ‘Nigger-nigger-nigger,’ he substituted ‘Commie-Commie-Commie.’”

At a 1966 press conference, Nixon said, “Strom is no racist.  Strom is a man of courage and integrity.”  Thurmond craved respectability among his new GOP comrades, and from that moment on the South Carolina senator campaigned enthusiastically for Nixon.  “To Thurmond, laboring under the burden of his past as the ‘Dr. No’ of American race relations, it was like being granted absolution from purgatory by the pope of American politics,” Carter wrote. “Almost pathetically grateful, the senator seldom wavered in his support for Nixon in the years that followed.” 

Nixon would have Southern Republicans in his pocket by the time of the 1968 party convention.  He smartly spent 1966 campaigning for Republican congressional candidates in normally GOP districts that had voted Democratic during Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential landslide.  On Election Day 1966, 27 of the 48 freshmen Democratic congressmen were swept out of office. The candidates Nixon backed won, giving him an even larger slate of important allies in his campaign for the Republican nomination two years later.

One of Nixon’s chief rivals for the Republican nomination in 1968, Ronald Reagan, also learned from Wallace to play on racial resentments. Reagan criticized the California Supreme Court when it overturned Proposition 14, which had reversed a California law requiring that housing be open to all potential buyers, regardless of race.  “I never believed that majority rule has the right to impose on an individual as to what he does with his property,” Reagan said, tacitly suggesting that the government should do nothing to prevent segregation.  “This has nothing to do with discrimination.  It has to do with our freedom, our basic freedom.”  A budget mess created by his tax cuts, however, and a scandal surrounding the revelation that the governor had gay men on this staff, scuttled the former actor’s White House ambitions, at least this time around. In any case, Nixon’s alliance with Strom Thurmond insured that Southern Republicans would back the former Vice President.  Reagan could not win the nomination without the backing of such delegates. Nixon won the nomination.  He narrowly won the election against the Democratic incumbent Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Wallace, who split from the Democrats and ran on the third-party American Independent Party ticket.  Even though Nixon’s margin of victory was narrow, when his 43.4 percent of the popular vote is combined with Wallace’s 13.5 percent, this suggests how successful a tactic appealing to white fears and resentments had become.  Many Nixon and Wallace voters didn’t like programs such as affirmative action, which seemed to give African Americans an advantage over whites in hiring, and were outraged by the black uprisings between 1965 and 1968 in cities like Los Angeles, Newark and Detroit.  Coded racism, inspired by Wallace’s campaigns, became a norm in Republican politics.

One of the most perceptive politicians of his era, Nixon quickly recognized shared grievances.  “In his [1968] campaign, Nixon spoke about healing the nation’s wounds,” the author Mark Hamilton Lytle said.  “As president, he tended to exploit them. On the domestic front he sought to forge a new Republican Majority  . . .

Nixon’s new majority would include such traditional Democrats as white Southerners, blue-collar unionists, and what he called the ‘silent majority.’  In the wake of the Civil Rights Act and Great Society affirmative action programs, many conservative Democrats were ready to switch parties.  Nixon [cracked] . . . down on protest, pot, pornography, and permissiveness in favor of a ‘law and order’ agenda popular with unionists and Middle Americans.  He would also turn loose the forces of law and order on his enemies in a campaign that would be noteworthy for its lawlessness.

The Nixon coalition brought together those,  as Perlstein notes, who resented “condescending and self-serving liberals ‘who make their money out of plans, ideas, communication, social upheaval, happenings, excitement,’ at the psychic expense of the great, ordinary . . . mass of Americans from Maine to Hawaii.”  Nixon began to call such culturally conservative Americans the “silent majority,” a group involving “millions of people in the middle of the American political spectrum who do not demonstrate, who do not picket or protest loudly.”

Nixon and his aides sought to walk a tightrope, wanting to appear moderate compared to explicit racists like Alabama segregationist governor and presidential candidate George Wallace, while still appealing to Wallace’s resentful Southern white constituency.  This approach came to be known as the “Southern Strategy.” During his career in the United States House and the Senate, Nixon acquired the reputation of a racial moderate, so much so that for a time he was seriously competitive for the African American vote in his presidential race against John Kennedy.  While vice president, Nixon supported the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, a step further than President Eisenhower was willing to take.  He backed civil rights bills introduced in the Congress in the 1950s and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and met publicly with Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1957.  Nixon, nevertheless, “thought, basically, they [African Americans] were genetically inferior . . . He thought they couldn’t achieve on a level with whites,” said John Ehrlichman, White House counsel and assistant to the president for domestic affairs. 

Audio tapes Nixon made in the Oval Office when he was president revealed he frequently used the word “nigger” and other slurs to refer to blacks.  Nixon told his personal secretary, Rosemary Woods, that it would take 500 years for African Americans to catch up with whites.  Nixon claimed, according to biographer Richard Reeves, “that there had never in history been a successful or adequate black nation.  ‘Africa is hopeless,’ he told Ehrlichman.  ‘The worst is Liberia, which we built.’”  Nixon also said that the Irish were mean drunks as a “natural trait,” and that Italians “just don’t have their heads screwed on right.” Nixon, in particular, harbored a deep distrust of Jews, whom he described as “disloyal” and out to get him. “The Jews voted 95 percent against me,” Nixon complained.  Even the Jews he was close to, such as his foreign policy advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and speechwriter William Safire, had to deal with the president’s anti-Semitism.  Nixon would contemptuously refer to Kissinger as “my Jew-boy” while the senior diplomat was in the same room.

Nixon, however, to a large degree kept these prejudices close to his vest.  “When Nixon embraced a ‘Southern strategy’ that involved turning his back on the civil rights movement, his actions were dictated more by a cool calculation of political advantage than by any personal racial animosities,” historians Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin write.  “Once in the White House, Nixon’s handling of racial issues continued to be dictated by political considerations.  He hoped to head off or blunt a possible Wallace electoral challenge in 1972, while extending Republican inroads into formerly Democratic constituencies in the South and the white working class North.”  Seeking the support of angry whites in 1969, Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell asked the courts to delay enforcement of the desegregation of Mississippi schools.  “Do only what the law requires,” Nixon wrote in a memo.  “Not one thing more.”  When expiration of the 1965 Voting Rights Act approached in 1970, Nixon unsuccessfully urged Congress to allow the law to lapse.

One of Nixon’s top advisors was speechwriter Pat Buchanan, a former newspaper columnist who was one of the creators of the “Southern Strategy.”  Nixon had once described Buchanan’s position on Jim Crow schools as “segregation forever.”   Buchanan advised Nixon to not visit Dr. King’s widow on the first anniversary of the Civil Rights leader’s assassination because, Buchanan wrote, King was “one of the most divisive men in contemporary history.” After Nixon’s 1972 reelection, Buchanan urged the president to not “fritter away his present high support in the nation for an ill-advised governmental effort to forcibly integrate races."

 In a memo to Nixon, Buchanan once defended the infamous massacre by South Africa’s white supremacist police of 67 blacks during an anti-apartheid uprising in Sharpsville in 1960.  Like Nixon, Buchanan was not above using the n-word.  Buchanan dismissed Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko as "the house nigger of the Politburo."  Towards the end of his tenure, a disillusioned Buchanan bemoaned that “conservatives were the  niggers of the Nixon administration.” 

Temporarily leaving public life, Buchanan returned to his roots as a right-wing newspaper columnist and on August 25, 1977 the St. Louis Globe-Democrat published a column in which Buchanan argued that Adolf Hitler had a positive side.  Buchanan in part argued that:

"Those of us in childhood during the war years were introduced to Hitler only as a caricature . . . Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier in the Great War, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him. But Hitler's success was not based on his extraordinary gifts alone. His genius was an intuitive sense of the mushiness, the character flaws, the weakness masquerading as morality that was in the hearts of the statesmen who stood in his path."

In spite of this background, Reagan appointed former Nixon speech writer Pat Buchanan as White House Communications Director, where he served from 1985 to 1987. Both direct and indirect anti-black rhetoric became the norm in Republican politics by the 1980s, the way paved by Nixon and Buchanan and former segregationist Democrat and firebrand TV editorialist Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who won a Senate seat as a Republican in the Nixon electoral landslide of 1972.   Helms had a long history of crude racism.  At one point he warned that, “Crime rates and irresponsibility among Negroes are a fact of life which must be faced."  After the institution was integrated, Helms referred to the University of North Carolina (UNC) as the "University of Negroes and Communists."

Speaking against civil rights demonstrators, he sternly warned, "The Negro cannot count forever on the kind of restraint that's thus far left him free to clog the streets, disrupt traffic, and interfere with other men's rights." When Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered, Helms (who would later oppose making King's birthday a federal holiday), chose not to remember the greatness or bravery of the man but to evoke the sexual phobia that animated so much white violence against African Americans. Referring to students at Duke University who held a vigil to mourn King's passing, Helms said, "They should ask their parents if it would be all right for their son or daughter to marry a Negro."  Black poverty, Helms openly stated, was a product of intellectual inferiority, which made any programs aimed at economic uplift pointless.  “No intelligent Negro citizen should be insulted by a reference to this very plain fact of life. It is time to face honestly and sincerely the purely scientific statistical evidence of natural racial distinction in group intellect. ... There is no bigotry either implicit or intended in such a realistic confrontation with the facts of life. ... Those who would undertake to solve the problem by merely spending more money, and by massive forced integration, may be doing the greatest injustice of all to the Negro.”

Helms never apologized for his hard-line defense of segregation or his support for white supremacist governments in Rhodesia and South Africa, and he was relentless in his opposition to creating a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King.  Running for re-election in 1990 against popular Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, an African American, the Helms campaign released an infamous advertisement that was the most explicit appeal to white racial resentments since George Wallace’s campaigns for president in the 1960s and 1970s.  Noting Gantt’s support for affirmative action, the campaign spot featured a closeup of a white man’s hands after he has crumpled a letter as the narrator says, “You needed that job, but they had to give it to a minority." Helms played on the association white racists had long made between black men and rape, noting in one spot Gantt’s opposition to the death penalty. "Women beaten and raped," a voiceover in one advertisement says, over the image of  a body crumpled on the ground. "The death penalty for rapists who brutally beat their victims? Gantt says, 'No.' Helms says, 'Yes.' "

Even towards the end of his career, Helms didn’t flinch to win the plaudits of other open racists.  Once as a guest on a Larry King Live segment in 1995Helms simply smiled when a caller said he should have won a Nobel Peace Prize for “everything you’ve done to help keep down the niggers.” Rather than denounce the racial slur or make a comment on the evils of racism, Helms chuckled and said, “Whoops, well, thank you, I think.”

Helms was an extreme example of GOP race-baiting (and homophobia as well), but more subtle appeals to racism became the new norm in the Republican Party.  Ronald Reagan borrowed Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” when he challenged incumbent Republican President Ronald Reagan in the 1976 GOP primaries. Reagan accused Ford of failing to rein in the excesses of the liberal welfare state and made numerous, repeated false claims on the campaign.  A favorite, racially-charged tall tale of his concerned a “welfare queen” who supposedly used 80 false identities, had a dozen Social Security cards and allegedly cashed in on veteran’s benefits from four husbands.

When pressed for details such as the name of this welfare cheat, Reagan and his campaign couldn’t produce any supporting evidence.  Such stories were fictions.  The tale was aimed straight at angry Southern white men who believed that black malcontents in the 1960s had manipulated liberal guilt to gain undeserved benefits. The stories got Reagan’s audience riled, so he kept telling them regardless of their authenticity.  Other times in 1976 without documentation, Reagan spun tall tales of welfare recipients driving Cadillacs.  To another audience, he spoke of a “strapping young buck” using food stamps to buy T-bone steaks at a grocery store.  (“Buck” was a term commonly used in the South to refer to aggressive black males.)

Reagan picked up where he left off as he challenged Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1980, choosing to make a speech strongly defending “state’s rights” – the phrase segregationists rallied behind in defense of Jim Crow – within spitting distance of Philadelphia, Mississippi, scene of the infamous 1964 murders of civil rights crusaders Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney by law enforcement officers and the local Ku Klux Klan.  Reagan complained that the 1965 Voting Rights Act had been “humiliating to the South” (thus ignoring that blacks lived in the South as well as whites and that voter disenfranchisement and Jim Crow laws had been humiliating to the African American community.)

The Reagan administration fought an IRS rule banning tax-exempt status for institutions that practiced racial discrimination.  Reagan personally sought an exemption for evangelical Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which specifically prohibited interracial dating by students and employees.  (Bob Jones remained segregated until 1971, when it first allowed entry to married black students.  It adopted the interracial dating ban when it opted to admit unmarried African Americans in 1975.)   Bob Jones University sued to earn back tax-exempt status with the support of the Reagan Justice Department.  (The court turned down BJU and the Justice Department in an 8-1 decision in 1983.)  As president, Reagan opposed a King holiday until the proposal passed the Congress by a large enough measure to override a veto; and he opposed imposing sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa. 

The marriage between Republican presidential politics and white supremacy was consummated in the campaign waged by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988.  Bush ran for the United States Senate in 1964 in Texas against incumbent Ralph Yarborough, in part attacking the senator’s support of black rights and stating that he would oppose the proposed Civil Rights Act passed that year.  Bush used the standard segregationist code words.  “Texas has a comparably good record in civil rights,” he said in one speech, “and I’m opposed to the Federal Government intervening further into State affairs and individual rights.”  In an era in which African Americans were routinely denied the right to vote or to serve on juries and Southern police departments routinely collaborated with the Ku Klux Klan and were implicated in the murder of civil rights workers, Bush argued that civil rights was not a federal issue but should be left to state and local authorities.  Twenty-four years later Bush reverted to form, using a third-party Political Action Committee to smear Dukakis with the infamous “Willie Horton ad” featuring the black face of Horton, a man convicted of murder who committed robbery and rape while on a weekend furlough while Dukakis served as Massachusetts governor.  The ad also depicted a prison entrance as a revolving door, implying that white liberals would unleash a flood of black criminals on an innocent public. 

Unlike the Jesse Helms ad against Gantt, the pro-Bush ad did not even have to specifically mention “minorities” to get its demonizing message across. After the turn of the century, similar techniques were used to depict Democrats as weak on illegal immigration, with numerous Republican campaigns using grainy black and white footage depicting sinister, shadowy figures sneaking across the border. 

In 1989, Neo-Nazi and onetime Grand Dragon of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke won a seat in a special election for  the Louisiana state House of Representatives representing Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, in spite his known ties to hate groups.  Duke ran as a Republican.  Duke tried to enter the Republican mainstream, describing himself as “pro-white” rather than “anti-black.”  In the early 1980s, Duke formed the National Association for the Advancement of White People, which he called “a Klan without sheets” that would attract a more intelligent group of followers other than unsophisticated “nigger haters.”  His background was well-known to voters during the 1989 House race, yet Duke finished first in the open primary, winning a third of the votes.  However, he did not get the required 50 percent-plus to claim victory.

To their credit, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush endorsed Duke’s runoff opponent, John Treen, but Louisiana voters catapulted the former Klansman to the state House in the second round.   Duke earned national attention as he proposed bills calling for welfare recipients and residents of public housing to be tested for drugs.  He sold books singing the praises of Adolf Hitler from his House office and arguing that blacks were less intelligent than whites.  Never serious about his job as a mere legislator, after one term Duke entered the gubernatorial race for Louisiana.  Duke was able to raise a shocking $2.4 million, beating the incumbent governor, Democrat-turned-Republican Buddy Roemer, and ending up in  a runoff with the famously corrupt former governor Edwin Edwards. Duke ended up carrying 55 percent of the white vote in the second round, but still lost to Edwards, who had the backing of Louisiana’s business community and celebrities such as New Orleans Saints quarterback Bobby Hebret. 

Most establishment Republicans were horrified by Duke’s success, but that didn’t mean they were unwilling to borrow his ideas.   Pat Buchanan, now a frequently invited TV talking head and co-host of the CNN show Crossfire, urged his fellow Republicans to borrow Duke’s platform.  In a February 27, 1989 syndicated column, Buchanan wrote:

The way to do battle with David Duke is not to go ballistic because Duke, as a teenager, paraded around in a Nazi costume to protest [anti-war radical lawyer] William Kunstler during Vietnam, or to shout to the heavens that Duke had the same phone number last year as the Ku Klux Klan. Everybody in Metairie knew that. The way to deal with Duke is the way the GOP dealt with the far more formidable challenge of George Wallace. Take a hard look at Duke's portfolio of winning issues; and expropriate those not in conflict with GOP principles.
Duke did not beat John Treen because he is an ex-wizard; he beat him in spite of it; he beat him because he was tougher on taxes and made an issue of urban crime, the primary source of which is the urban underclass; he beat Treen because he lit into set-asides and "affirmative action" in hiring, scholarships, and promotions, i.e. reverse discrimination against white folks who happen to make up 99 percent of his electorate.
What Duke did, after he turned in his robes and signed up with the GOP, was run over and seize terrain vacated by the GOP. Duke walked into the political vacuum left when conservative Republicans in the Reagan years were intimidated into shucking off winning social issues so we might be able to pass moral muster with [African American civil rights leaders Benjamin] Hooks and [Martin Luther] King.
When was the last time a Republican president attacked the injustice and immorality of quotas? When was the last time the GOP denounced social engineers and their endless plans for the forced integration of neighborhoods and schools? Where was the GOP when Yonkers was being kicked around by that federal judge?

The Republican Party, post-election, is getting wonderful press embracing Jesse Jackson, flirting with Ben Hooks, Andy Young and King. Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong at all; so long as the GOP does not pay for its press clipping in the currency of old principles. Right now, though, my sense is the GOP is throwing away a winning hand, and Duke is only the first fellow to pick up the discards.

By the early 1990s, the Republican Party had rejected the Buchanan wing by embracing military imperialism and free trade policies, but they accepted his proscriptions on how to deal with racial issues.  Attacking “racial quotas” allegedly required by affirmative action (when such quotas were in fact illegal), and by suggesting that blacks and Latinos primarily benefited from food stamps and welfare (when in fact whites, particularly poor Southern white women, represented the largest demographic receiving anti-poverty aid from the federal government), Republicans were able to disguise their agenda promoting robber baron capitalism and social Darwinism under the cloak of tribalism.  Such was the case when Newt Gingrich led the so-called “Republican Revolution,” the GOP control of the U.S. House from 1995 to 2007.  As historian Dan. T. Carter put it in his book, From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994, “When [Gingrich] complains of inner city ‘welfare Americans’ who ‘quit their jobs’ and ‘start cheating on the rent,’ ‘who start fighting on Saturday night’ and ‘break up their family,’ he does not have to refer to skin color.”  So ingrained are the slanders against black and brown people in white American culture that, by the time of Barack Obama’s supposedly post-racial America, a GOP politician can suggest that a highly-intelligent, Hawaii-born African American president is somehow an illegal alien who relied on affirmative action to get through law school and still maintain plausible deniability as log as he doesn’t use the “n-word.”    The GOP has evolved from the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Pat Buchanan and David Duke.



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.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How Did Blacks Become Democrats and Republicans Racists? Part II


The last time African Americans in significant numbers seriously considered voting for a Republican candidate was in the 1960 showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.  Both candidates largely overlooked the civil rights struggle in the 1960 election.  Several signs pointed to a favorable year for the Democrats, out of power in the White House for the eight years of Dwight Eisenhower, but the party still relied heavily on its Southern segregationist wing. 

 Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who waged an unsuccessful campaign to win the party’s vice presidential nomination in 1956, opened the race as a top contender because of family money, a highly publicized war record, his personal attractiveness, and the glamour of his wife, the former Jacquelyn Bouvier.  Kennedy feared alienating key white Southern politicians as he fought an uphill primary battle with two-time presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, the favorite of the liberal wing, and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson of Texas, who had the support of many key Democratic leaders in the South such as U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn, who also hailed from the Lone Star State.

Kennedy avoided discussing civil rights issues as much as he could during his primary battle, and he actively courted and won an early endorsement from arch-segregationist Alabama Gov. John Patterson. During debates on a 1957 Civil Rights Act, John Kennedy had sided with Southern segregationists on some issues.   Noting that Eisenhower had pulled Southern whites into the Republican camp in his 1952 and 1956 campaigns against Stevenson, the eventual GOP nominee, Vice President Richard Nixon, also sought the backing of whites in Dixie who supported Jim Crow laws.

New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller attempted to frustrate Vice President Nixon’s campaign for the GOP nomination by appealing to liberals within the party on civil rights.  Many African Americans grew disgusted with the continued dominance of Southern segregationists in the Democratic Party and had voted for Eisenhower in 1956.  Some African Americans felt reassured by Eisenhower’s use of the National Guard to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.  Nelson Rockefeller believed that the Republicans had a chance to win the black vote in 1960 and that this could give the party an edge in close races in major Northern and Midwestern states.  Rockefeller demanded a stronger than planned civil rights plank in the 1960 Republican platform and Nixon, also hopeful of winning black support, acquiesced.  The platform pledged “vigorous enforcement of civil rights laws,” support for “court orders for school desegregation” and creation of “a Commission on Equal Job Opportunity” and “Action to ensure that public transportation and other government authorized services shall be free from segregation.”

Nixon tripped over himself trying not to alienate black voters while at the same time hoping to carry white Southern voters as successfully as Eisenhower had in 1952 and 1956.  Kennedy, meanwhile, described segregation as “irrational,” but was largely unaware of the conditions faced by African Americans in the South and seemed to have little emotional investment in the issue.  Yet, he realized that the black vote could swing six of the eight most populous states his way in the November elections.  Liberal advisors persuaded him to reach out to African Americans.  Once, while driving his red convertible through Georgetown on his way to the Senate, Kennedy spotted Harris Wofford trying to get a cab. Wofford was an attorney advising Democratic campaign on civil rights. Kennedy pulled over, picked Wofford up and, as his left hand tapped on the car door, he said to Wofford, “Now in five minutes, tick off the ten things that a president ought to do to clear up this goddamned civil rights mess.” Kennedy soon promised that with a “stroke of the pen” he would end discrimination in federally funded housing.  An incident in Georgia, however, provided an important, lucky opportunity for the Democrat to win over African American voters.

On October 19, less than a month before the election, police arrested civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., along with 53 other African American protestors at Rich’s Department Store in Atlanta, for refusing to leave tables at the segregated Magnolia Room Restaurant.  Five days later, authorities released the other protestors from jail, but King was sentenced to four months’ hard labor for supposedly driving with a suspended license, and was transferred to Reidsville State Prison.  Members of the King family feared that the minister would be murdered while in custody. 

Nixon instructed aides to tell the press that the Vice President would offer no comment on the issue.  The Kennedy campaign, however, saw an immediate opportunity to gain ground with African American voters. Wofford feared for King’s safety and sent an urgent message to Kennedy, who was campaigning in Chicago and in Michigan.   Kennedy placed an immediate call to Mrs. King and told her he would see if he could assist the family. 

Campaign manager Bobby Kennedy phoned the judge who had sentenced King.  “It just burned me up . . . to think of that bastard sentencing a citizen to four months of hard labor for a minor traffic offense and screwing up my brother’s campaign and making our country look ridiculous in front of the world,” Bobby Kennedy later said.  “. . . I made it clear  that if he was a decent American he would let King out of jail by sundown.”  It took a little longer, but within days authorities released the minister from jail.  The incident got relatively little coverage in the white press, but word spread quickly in the African American community.  The civil rights leader’s father, the influential minister Martin Luther King, Sr., had said that, “I had expected to vote against Senator Kennedy because of his religion.  But now he can be my president, Catholic or whatever he is.  It took courage to call my daughter-in-law at a time like this.  He has the moral courage to stand up for what he knows is right.  I’ve got all my votes and I’ve got a suitcase and I’m going to take them up there and dump them in his lap.”

A blue-bound election pamphlet distributed to African American church congregations quoted the elder King’s endorsement and spread among black congregations in the days leading to the presidential election.  Kennedy himself later laughed at the mixed message contained in the African American minister’s words.  “He was going to vote against me because I was a Catholic, but since I called his daughter-in-law, he voted for me.  That’s a helluva bigoted statement, wasn’t it?  Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr., having a bigot for a father.”  Then, acknowledging the controversies surrounding Joseph P. Kennedy, Kennedy grinned as he observed, “Well, we all have fathers, don’t we?”  Kennedy had won over black voters worried about his Catholic background.

The assassination of John Kennedy November 22, 1963 put Vice President Lyndon Johnson in the White House.  Johnson might be the most complicated figure in American political life in the mid- and late-twentieth century.  Often crude, he nevertheless proved to be perhaps the greatest political tactician of his era.  The graduate of Southwest Texas State Teachers College, a small Central Texas campus, he often suffered from an inferiority complex in the company of the Ivy Leaguers peopling the Kennedy Administration, yet his ambitions bordered on the grandiose.  A small-town Southerner, Johnson would use the word “nigger” in private conversation but still devoted much of his public life to promoting civil rights and fighting poverty.  An inveterate compromiser, Johnson would also propose some of the boldest reform legislation in American history.

Johnson’s early career as a grade-school teacher would shape his political worldview.  During the 1928-29 school year, he taught fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders at a tiny, segregated Mexican American school in Cotulla, Texas, just south of San Antonio. Three-quarters of the Mexican population in the town, according to Johnson biographer Robert Dallek, lived in “hovels or dilapidated shanties without indoor plumbing or electricity.”  The parents worked at area ranches and farms for “slave wages.”  Johnson would later recall that his heart broke looking at students “mired in the slums . . . lashed by prejudice . . . buried half-alive in illiteracy.”  He remembered looking at their eyes and seeing “a quizzical expression on their faces” as they wondered, “Why don’t people like me?  Why do they hate me because I am brown?” 


Johnson was often harsh and sometimes intolerant as a teacher, using corporal punishment if he caught students speaking Spanish, but he also felt empathy for his young charges’ poverty.  Johnson would say, “I was determined [to help] those poor little kids.  I saw hunger in their eyes and pain in their bodies.  Those little brown bodies had so little and needed so much I was determined to spark something inside of them, to fill their souls with ambition and interest and belief in the world, to help them finish their education.  Then the rest would take care of itself.”  Johnson may have underestimated the power of racism to deter educated, ambitious people of color, but he devoted himself to his students, distributing toothpaste sent to him by his mother and starting extracurricular activities like debate, track, baseball, spelling bees, and band.

Johnson carried his conflicted personality, which was both bigoted and empathetic, to his job as director of the New Deal-created National Youth Administration in Texas from 1935 to 1937.  Though he sometimes accommodated local anti-Mexican prejudice in his hiring of unemployed youths on projects such as constructing roadside parks, he was more assertive in recruiting and promoting African Americans.  Under Johnson, the NYA created Freshman College Centers for students who had received a high school education but could not, with their small NYA salaries, afford tuition at local colleges.  Under this program, students could take a pair of college courses tuition-free, improving their education and their resumes at the same time. 

Early in his Senate career, Johnson intervened in the controversy surrounding Private Felix Longoria.  Longoria was killed in the Philippines during a volunteer mission in the closing days of World War II, and his body was shipped to a cemetery in Three Rivers, Texas. But the funeral director refused to allow a wake to be held in the chapel, supposedly because there had been disorder at previous Mexican-American funerals and because “the whites would not like” sharing the funeral grounds with Mexicans. Dr. Hector Garcia, a Corpus Christi Mexican American civil rights activist, contacted Johnson, who arranged a funeral with full honors at Arlington National Cemetery on February 16, 1949.  Johnson and a personal representative of President Harry Truman attended the service with the Longoria family.

In 1955, Johnson’s peers selected him as Senate majority leader. “No longer the deferential youngster, Lyndon Johnson was now a towering presence in the Senate anterooms where deals were cut, a wheeler-dealer who poked his face within inches of his fellow senators, gripping their forearms with one hand, persuading, intimidating, and calling in debts to secure the votes he needed for advancing his legislative and personal agenda,” as one observer noted. Franklin Roosevelt had predicted that Johnson might become the first Southern president since antebellum times.  With a White House bid in mind, in the late 1950s Johnson positioned himself as a racial moderate. 

He was pointedly not asked to sign the so-called “Southern Manifesto” circulated among and supported by 101 members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.  The 1956 document condemned the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown school desegregation order and said in part, “This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding."  Johnson, the Senate majority leader who was distrusted by his Dixie colleagues as a racial liberal, joined Tennessee senators Estes Kefauver and Albert Gore, Sr., as the lone Southern standouts in the Senate who did not lend their names to the Manifesto.

Lyndon Johnson also gave his critical support to the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the first voting rights law passed by the Congress since Reconstruction.  Under this law, Congress established the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  The law empowered this division to investigate claims of voter harassment and racial discrimination by election officials.   The Justice Department now could prosecute individuals conspiring to deny voting rights.  The law also established a six-member United States Civil Rights Commission, which examined cases where voters were denied the ballot because of race.  Johnson also proposed in 1959 a federal civil rights mediation board where disputes over elections could be resolved.

Johnson entered the 1960 Democratic presidential primary race, losing to Kennedy.  He was selected as running mate because the party faithful worried about their prospects in Texas, a state that had gone for Eisenhower twice in the previous two presidential elections.  Kennedy and Johnson proved a mismatch.   The president and his brother Bobby saw Johnson as unsophisticated, and they underestimated his political skills.  Johnson bridled at serving as junior partner to the younger Kennedy; Johnson had previously held seniority in the Senate.

Nevertheless, when Johnson spoke up, it could be with force. Johnson later recounted an anecdote: He was vice president and he asked his African American cook and her husband to drive him from Washington, D.C., to Texas.  Their route took them through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and the entourage could find no restaurants or restrooms open to two of the three passengers.  “Two people who worked for the Vice President of the United States peeing in a ditch . . . That’s not right,” Johnson would later drawl.  As historian Matusow notes, Johnson was passionate, if ineffective, as head of the president’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity and he “urged Kennedy to tour every Southern state to tell white people in person that segregation was morally wrong, utterly unjustifiable, and in violation of the tenets of Christianity.”

Johnson frequently invoked his martyred predecessor as he pushed, needled and cajoled the Congress toward passage of his top legislative priority, the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law banned segregation at public facilities and racial discrimination in the work place, empowered the attorney general to initiate lawsuits against segregated school systems, and allowed the federal government to withhold funds from schools refusing to comply with desegregation orders. In the Senate, Richard Russell of Georgia launched a filibuster, relying on a team of 18 colleagues who attempted to talk the bill to death, claiming the proposed law would lead to “amalgamation and mongrelization of the races.” The bill ultimately passed by an overwhelming 290-130 vote.

The struggle to pass the bill sometimes took on physical dimensions. Arch-segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party because of “liberal” civil rights legislation, tried to prevent enforcement of the law by boycotting a key subcommittee meeting, provoking Texas’ last liberal Senator, Ralph Yarborough, to literally drag Thurmond into the hearing room. The two wrestled each other to the ground. Senator Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, soon to become Johnson’s vice president, urged Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, not previously a supporter of civil rights legislation, to join the cause.  On June 10, 1964, Dirksen announced his support for a cloture vote, which would end the filibuster and allow a vote on the bill.  The cloture motion passed 71-29, with four votes more than needed to close debate. The front lines of the battle for social justice, however, would not be found in Washington, D.C., but in the backwoods of Mississippi.

FREEDOM SUMMER

A younger generation of black protestors was not content to wait upon the slow workings of the United States Senate.  The NAACP, representing an older generation, fought segregation through a series of lawsuits.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) sought to defeat Jim Crow through political lobbying, negative publicity about Southern discrimination, and acts of non-violent resistance, such as sit-ins at segregated lunch counters.  With a younger membership, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) favored direct action against injustice, led by local civil rights campaigners.  SNCC’s membership resented King and other civil rights “celebrities” they accused of swooping in at the end of a campaign and claiming credit for the hard grassroots work of locals.

Seen as reckless by the older peers, SNCC members marched directly through the gates of fire, continuing their voter registration campaign in Mississippi in spite of past bloodshed. John F.  Kennedy’s administration had been lukewarm about civil rights demonstrations, fearing that Southern segregationist Democrats would withhold support of the domestic and foreign policy agendas.  To the Civil Rights Movement’s surprise, the president’s brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, signaled in late 1961 that he would help groups like SNCC receive financial support from liberal charities such as the Taconic Foundation if the civil rights organizations focused on voter registration in the South.  Worried that its mild civil rights record guaranteed that Kennedy would lose Southern states to the Republicans in the 1964 re-election effort, the administration no doubt hoped that an increase in the number of friendly black voters in states like Mississippi would provide a counter to white segregationists.   Many in SNCC feared the White House was using them, but the cash-strapped group found Bobby Kennedy’s offer one they couldn’t refuse. SNCC, the NAACP and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) launched the Voter Education Project in April 1962. 

More than $870,000 (about $5.5 million in today’s dollars) poured into the Voter Education Project from the Taconic Foundation, the Stern Family Fund and the Field Foundations. Over the next two years, the project registered for the vote more than a half-million African Americans in the South, but the overwhelming majority of these voters lived in big cities.  The large numbers of rural southern blacks remained largely unregistered, and in Mississippi, the project had added only 4,000 new voters.  Just under 400,000 African Americans remained unregistered there.  In rural Pike County, just 200 of 8,000 eligible African Americans were on the voter rolls.  In Walthall County, not one of 2,500 blacks had registered, and Amitie County recorded just one registered black voter.  By 1964, even though African Americans made up 42 percent of the total population they comprised only 6.7 percent of registered voters.

Mississippi became a focus of the registration drive.  Having seen so many African Americans injured or killed over civil rights, and a victim of an attempted murder himself, Bob Moses in the fall of 1963 invited the participation of white students from colleges like Harvard, Yale and Stanford.  His vision of a nation transformed into a “Beloved Community” included blacks and whites.  Moses moved ahead with plans for a “Freedom Summer” in 1964, in which hundreds of white volunteers would join black activists to increase the number of African American voters across Mississippi.  Most of the 900 student volunteers who arrived from out of state for the campaign were well-off white students from elite universities. 



MISSISSIPPI BURNING

It was a long, hot, and bloody summer.  During the “Freedom Summer” campaign in 1964, arsonists frequently burned down Freedom Schools and the homes of the volunteer staff. In total, police arrested more than 1,000 black and white volunteers, at least 80 civil rights workers suffered beatings at the hands of law enforcement officers or angry white mobs, and at least 37 black churches and 30 black homes and businesses were firebombed or torched during that Mississippi summer. Volunteers lived with high stress day and night, and would later report symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.  One volunteer recalled, “wondering whether someone was going to sneak in and dynamite you or fire-bomb your home.  Always checking your car before you got in it, because you were worrying whether someone stuck a piece of dynamite under it.  Always making sure your tires were in good condition, because you never know, you may have to race up the road at night.”

The murders of the three young men in Mississippi turned public sentiment strongly in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  For many African Americans, however, the case also served as a reminder that the white establishment valued white life much more than black life.  Soon, black activists in large numbers would part from their white allies and seek a separate black identity that rejected what they saw as the sick values of white society. “I am sick and tired of going to the funerals of black men who have been murdered by white men,” said CORE activist David Dennis, angry tears streaming down his cheeks, during the funeral for James Chaney.  “I’ve got vengeance in my heart tonight . . . If you go back home and sit down and take what these white men in Mississippi are doing to us . . . if you take it and don’t do something about it . . . then God damn your souls.”

THE MISSISSIPPI FREEDOM DEMOCRATIC PARTY

Lyndon Johnson had long felt like an unwanted interloper, and rankled that some Democrats saw him as an illegitimate heir to the Kennedy throne.  Thus, Johnson hoped that the 1964 Democratic National Convention that summer in Atlantic City would be his coronation, an untarnished celebration of that year’s many legislative accomplishments.  Unfortunately, in spite of movement in the direction of expanded black civil rights, the signs loomed of a national white backlash against reform legislation, and the atmosphere threatened to spoil the Democratic celebrations.  George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, entered the Democratic presidential primaries and carried 34 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 30 percent in Indiana, and a shocking 43 percent in Maryland.  When Wallace’s insurgent campaign failed to unseat Johnson, many of these voters began drifting to Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who portrayed civil rights laws as the intrusion of a growing and increasingly tyrannical federal government into states’ rights.  Rioting in Harlem and other American cities in the summer of 1964 provoked white anger and increased Johnson’s fear of a challenge on the right.

The president, however, perceived a more direct challenge from Southern African Americans seeking to put a stop to the all-white segregationist delegations from the South that had been a feature of Democratic Conventions since the 1830s.  The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) had been organized during Freedom Summer.  Using a black panther as its symbol, the MFDP planned to challenge the credentials of Mississippi’s all-white delegation on the floor of the 1964 convention.  The MFDP held its own primaries, with black representatives from cities and rural communities across the state, as well as four white delegates.  The delegates would charge that the Mississippi regulars conducted primaries that ignored black voting rights and were thus in violation of federal law and could not be legally seated.   One of the MFDP delegates, Fannie Lou Hamer, a former sharecropper who had suffered an involuntary sterilization under Mississippi’s eugenics laws, said, “When we went to Atlantic City, we didn’t go there for publicity, we went there because we believed that America was what it said it was, ‘the land of the free.’”

President Johnson didn’t want a credentials fight at his convention.  Seeking to not embarrass the president, liberals proposed seating both the all-white Mississippi regulars and the Freedom delegation.  Governor Paul Johnson of Mississippi told the president his delegation would walk out if forced to share a place with the dissenters, while Gov. John Connally of Texas warned that other Southern delegations could walk out as well.  Johnson promised Hubert Humphrey a position as his running mate if he could persuade the Freedom delegation to drop its credentials challenge.

Hamer and the other delegates refused to play along and instead presented testimony to the credentials committee on the violent and corrupt oppression of black voting rights in Mississippi. With television networks broadcasting the testimony, Hamer related how she had been beaten in a Mississippi jail for her voter registration efforts. A state highway patrolman ordered black prisoners to beat her.  “The first Negro began to beat, and I was beat until I was exhausted  . . . After the first Negro was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolmen ordered the second Negro to use the blackjack.  The second Negro began to beat . . . I began to scream, and one white man got up and began to beat me on my head and tell me to ‘hush.’ ”

Upset that the Freedom delegation was getting all the attention, President Johnson called a press conference while Hamer was still testifying.  A compromise was offered that would allow two Freedom delegates to sit with the regulars while sixty-six other Freedom Party members could sit as non-voting observers with other delegations.  Unwilling to accept even this watered-down proposal, and a demand that they pledge loyalty to the Democratic presidential ticket, the all-white regular delegation walked out of the convention along with the Alabama delegates.  The walkout didn’t spread, however, which Lyndon Johnson declared as victory.  The convention voted to insist that the 1968 Mississippi delegation had to be integrated.  Hubert Humphrey was rewarded with this outcome by being named Johnson’s running mate. 

The Democratic ticket overwhelmingly defeated GOP nominee Goldwater that November.  The Arizona senator frightened off mainstream voters with a convention nomination speech in which he declared, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”  Later, Goldwater dismissed the hydrogen bomb as “merely another weapon.”  The night before the general election, the Johnson campaign ran an ad in which a young girl pulled petals from a daisy and counted them, then a voiceover counted down to a missile launch and the screen filled with footage of a mushroom cloud.  The ad was designed to remind voters of the dangers of nuclear weapons, and to imply that Goldwater’s attitude toward them was irresponsible.

The next day, Johnson carried 61 percent of the popular vote and beat Goldwater 486-52 in the Electoral College.  Goldwater’s sweep of the Deep South states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, where he carried the votes of whites angered by Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation, represented the only cloud on the political horizon for the Democrats.

BLOODY SUNDAY


Lyndon Johnson might have gotten his way regarding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic convention, but Martin Luther King would force the president’s hand regarding passage of a voting rights act in 1965.  King had undergone a subtle transformation in his attitude toward non-violence.  As historian Allen J. Matusow notes, “Once he employed it to persuade racial oppressors of their guilt and to change their hearts.  Many broken heads later – in fact, by Birmingham, 1963 – he had come to direct his campaigns not at the heart of the South but at the conscience of the North, seeking primarily to enlist the coercive power of the federal government against racial injustice.”  For his next voting rights campaign, King targeted Selma, Alabama, where only 383 of about 15,000 African Americans were registered.  King chose Selma not only for the obvious suppression of black voting but because he could count on an overreaction by Dallas County Sheriff Jim Clark. This man had acquired a reputation for out-of-control anger and violence. 

The campaign started in January 1965.  King announced that the campaign would climax with a 54-mile march on March 7 from Selma to the statehouse in Montgomery, the one-time capital of the Confederacy.  That day, 600 marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge onto state Highway 80 before state troopers, who arrived in squad cars adorned with Confederate flags, halted the march.  The state police charged into the crowd wielding billy clubs and firing tear gas canisters.  State police chased the marchers back across the bridge with Sheriff Clark shouting, “Get those goddamned niggers.”  

Deputies carried on what was essentially a police riot in Selma’s black neighborhoods that day, seizing a young black man from inside a church and throwing him through a stained-glass window decorated with an image of Jesus.  Footage of the police violence interrupted ABC’s broadcast of the film Judgment at Nuremberg, and the ugly scenes played on televisions around the world.  The event came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” 

King had been warned of an assassination plot by the Johnson administration and so was not present at the march but, after hearing of the injuries suffered by his friends and allies, he announced a second march.  Johnson worked out a deal with Wallace, however.  King could bring the marchers to the bridge, but they would halt when ordered to by the state troopers.  The protestors would then bow in prayer and leave.  Sadly, violence still broke out the night of the second march on March 9, when thugs beat to death James Reeb, a white minister from Massachusetts who had participated in earlier protests. 
Historian Matusow argues that this event marked a key turning point in the relationship between King and the younger firebrands in SNCC.  SNCC activists already chafed because Selma represented one more case in which local groups laid the foundations for the movement before a national figure like King swooped down with the national media in tow to get credit and publicity.  King’s compromises with state and national officials caused some members of SNCC to charge King with cowardice and betrayal of local activists.

King’s tactics, however, had an impact on President Johnson.  Johnson had wanted a “cooling off” period for civil rights legislation and hoped to focus on Medicare and other parts of his “Great Society” agenda, but the scenes on Bloody Sunday outraged him, and he made a voting rights bill a priority.  Johnson would also step in to allow King and his fellow marchers to complete their symbolic trek from Selma to Montgomery.  Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard for the third march, which began on March 21.  With 1,900 guardsmen shielding them from violence, by the fourth day the marchers numbered 25,000 protestors and included entertainers like the musical group Peter, Paul and Mary, United Nations Ambassador Ralph Bunche, and longtime activists like Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, and Whitney Young.  On March 25, King spoke from the steps of the Alabama State Capitol, where Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as president of the Confederacy in 1861.

The protestors happily sang freedom songs at the end of the long journey to Montgomery. This moment represented in many ways a final hurrah for King’s movement.  A deep generational split over the tactics of non-violence and incremental reforms would cause the young members of SNCC to move in a more radical direction, to be followed by more confrontational groups such as the Black Panthers.  Too many African Americans got tired of African American non-violence provoking white brutality.  The night of March 25, Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from Detroit, had volunteered to help transport marchers.  The mother of five was driving with a black passenger on Highway 80, the main route to Montgomery, when a car occupied by four Klansman pulled alongside her and fatally shot her in the head.  Gary Thomas Rowe, an informant on the FBI payroll, testified against the other three Klansmen, who were never convicted of the murder but sent to prison for 10 years for violation of the 1971 Ku Klux Klan Act. 

VOTING RIGHTS ACT

“Bloody Sunday,” followed by the Liuzzo murder, gave momentum to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   The act prohibited devices employed by Southern legislatures to keep African Americans from voting, such as literacy tests, which were supposedly equally enforced for black and white voters but were manipulated to systematically deny African Americans the ballot. The law also empowered the U.S. Justice Department to monitor elections in order to prevent intimidation and harassment of black voters in districts with a history of such behavior.

Resistance from Southern senators, who sensed a changing tide of public opinion, proved half-hearted.  Sixty-six senators co-sponsored the bill,  just one short of the number needed to end a filibuster.  Southern efforts to filibuster collapsed quickly.  Longtime civil rights leader Roy Wilkins afterward described Southern resistance to the bill as “lame.”  “That year, they (Southern senators) had neither their old energy nor the sympathy of the country behind them.”

On August 3, the House passed the measure by a 4-1 margin, and the next day the Senate passed the legislation 79-18. Johnson signed the bill into law August 6 in the President’s Room, where in 1861 Abraham Lincoln signed a law declaring free any slaves forced into service with the Confederate Army.  Johnson passed out 89 pens he used to sign the law, with Rosa Parks (who started the Montgomery bus boycott) and Vivian Malone (who had to be escorted into the University of Alabama by federal marshals when the university was integrated in 1963) two of the recipients. 

A jubilant atmosphere attended the signing ceremony, but Johnson knew the political dangers of pushing for such revolutionary change. “I have signed away the South for a generation,” he is said to have commented after he signed the bill into law. Johnson had no way of knowing if African Americans would vote in significant numbers after the bill’s enactment. He could count, however, on an angry Southern white backlash. He would live long enough to see his sad prophecy come true, as former segregationist Democrats essentially became segregationist Republicans across Dixie.

As a result of this law and the 1964 Civil Rights Act, segregation began to slowly fade across the South.  Decades later many students across the country would still attend overwhelmingly white or predominantly black and brown schools.  But in terms of black voter registration, the impact of the 1965 Voting Right Act was dramatic.  In the states of Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Alabama, black registration overall went from 31 percent to 57 percent by the late 1960s .  In the Deep South, the results were more dramatic, with black registration climbing from 32 to 60 percent in Louisiana, 19 to 53 percent in Alabama, and from 6 percent to 44 percent in Mississippi.  In Dallas County, Alabama, where the Selma campaign had just taken place, the number of registered voters rocketed from 320 to 6,789.  The number of black elected officials in the South also sharply climbed.  In the six states mentioned above, the number of black elected officials grew from 70 to about 400.

Although both Kennedy and Johnson had sometimes half-heartedly and inconsistently supported civil rights, the actions of both administrations regarding the black freedom struggle had two long term results. The so-called "Solid South" cracked.  For decades Southern states had elected a delegation to the House and Senate consisting almost entirely of Democrats.  Now segregationists, angered by Kennedy's intervention at Ol' Miss and Johnson's passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws in 1964 and 1965, reluctantly drifted from what had been the party of the Confederacy to the Republicans, the once-hated party of Abraham Lincoln.  After a result of the Voting Rights Act,  African Americans were now a factor in Southern elections and , like blacks nationally, became firmly attached to the Democratic Party.  This dramatic racial realignment of the American political system would not be complete until the 1990s.




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.