By Dr. Eric Wallace
Over the years there has been a concerted effort, on behalf of many, to rewrite political history, especially when it comes to the Democrat Party. These rewrites, half-truths or urban legends misrepresent historical fact; and unfortunately have lead astray countless numbers of people through politically charged falsehoods. One such legend, which seeks to rewrite history, is that of the Dixiecrats. As the legend goes, those Dixiecrats who broke from the Democrat party in 1948 all joined the Republican Party (Click names to see the articles by Roland Martin and Clarence Page).
According to Page’s reconstruction of history, Goldwater votes against the 1964 Civil rights act; and it takes moderate republicans, led by Everett Dirksen, to ensure that the act becomes law over the obstruction of the Southern segregationists. What Page fails to mention, is that Goldwater and other conservatives supported the 1957 and 1960 Civil rights acts. He then goes on to say, “…many of those same conservative southern Democrats turned Republican. They helped form the core of the historic “Southern strategy,” using racial resentments and states’ rights arguments to rebuild the conservative movement after Goldwater’s resounding defeat.” Unfortunately for Page, the historical record and pure logic don’t bear out this assumption.
During the Philadelphia nominating convention of the Democrat Party in 1948 a number of disgruntled southern segregationist democrats stormed out in protest. They were upset about planks in the new platform that supported Civil Rights.
They left to form a new Party called the State’s Rights Democratic Party also known as the Dixiecrats. Segregationist like George Wallace and other loyalists, although upset, did not bolt from the party; but instead supported another candidate against Harry Truman. According to Kari Frederickson, the goal for the Dixiecrats “was to win the 127 electoral-college votes of the southern states, which would prevent either Republican Party nominee Thomas Dewy or Democrat Harry Truman from winning the 266 electoral votes necessary for election. Under this scenario, the contest would be decided by the House of Representatives, where southern states held 11 of the 48 votes, as each state would get only one vote if no candidate received a majority of electors’ ballots. In a House election, Dixiecrats believed that southern Democrats would be able to deadlock the election until one of the parties had agreed to drop its civil rights plank.”
Notably, this stated aim is apparent in the third plank of the Dixiecrat’s platform which states, “We stand for social and economic justice, which, we believe can be guaranteed to all citizens only by a strict adherence to our Constitution and the avoidance of any invasion or destruction of the constitutional rights of the states and individuals. We oppose the totalitarian, centralized bureaucratic government and the police nation called for by the platforms adopted by the Democratic and Republican Conventions.”
What is even more telling, and speaks directly to the incredulous nature of this urban legend, is the fact that the Dixiecrats rejected the Civil rights platforms of not one, but both parties. Republicans had always supported civil rights since their inception (see GOP party platform here). What was new is that the Democrats, led by Harry Truman, were publicly taking a stand for Civil rights (see Democrat Party Platform here). The ‘totalitarian, centralized bureaucratic government”, according to the Dixiecrats, was the federal government’s enforcement of the 14thand 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. With both parties, now, standing for Civil rights the segregationist had no party to go too. Thus, they started their own with the idea of causing a stalemate, which they hoped to break, once both parties relinquished their pro-civil rights planks.
Which way did they go?
The strategy of the State’s Rights Democratic Party failed. Truman was elected and civil rights moved forward with support from both Republicans and Democrats. This begs an answer to the question: So where did the Dixiecrats go? Contrary to legend, it makes no sense for them to join with the Republican Party whose history is replete with civil rights achievements. The answer is, they returned to the Democrat party and rejoined others such as George Wallace, Orval Faubus, Lester Maddox, and Ross Barnett. Interestingly, of the 26 known Dixiecrats (5 governors and 21 senators) only three ever became republicans: Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Mills E. Godwind, Jr. The segregationists in the Senate, on the other hand, would return to their party and fight against the Civil Rights acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower proffered the first two Acts.
Dr. Wallace is the founder and Publisher of Freedom’s Journal Magazine. He has been in publishing for over 15 years and in ministry over 30 years. He holds a PhD in Biblical studies and is an ordained minister. He also serves as the CEO of Wallace Multimedia Group, LLC, the parent company of this magazine. He is married to Jennifer Wallace and they have two sons Eric and Greg.