Democrats and Racial Politics

28 Jun

By Frances Rice


Democrats have a 150-year history of using race as a political weapon to keep blacks in virtual slavery and Republicans out of power.


The recent firestorm ignited by Senator Hillary Clinton’s racially-tinged attempt to derail Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign shows the perils of Democrats using their race-based weapon against a black Democrat.  In the black community, people are outraged about how Democrat demagogues, including Billionaire Bob Johnson of BET, are treating Obama as an “uppity Negro” who dares to defy their white Democratic Party masters.


Prior to the Clinton-Obama hullabaloo over Senator Clinton’s disparaging remark about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Clinton campaign was being given a pass for using racial slurs against Senator Obama.  When Democrats called Senator Obama a “Magic Negro,” there was hardly a ripple of protest.  Just as little concern is expressed when Democrats slander black Republicans, such as former Lt. Governor Michael Steele who Democrats depicted as a “Simple Sambo” and Dr. Condoleezza Rice who was portrayed as an ignorant “Mammy”, reminiscent of the racial stereotypes used by Democrats during the days of “Jim Crow.” Any Republican using such slanderous tactics against blacks would be castigated as a racist and destroyed politically.


If the controversy generated by Senator Clinton’s remark that diminished the civil rights role of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. signals the beginning of an end to the type of racial divisiveness inflicted on our nation for over a century and a half by Democrats, then the angst created by Senator Clinton will be well worth it.


To fully appreciate the significance of this possible historical turning point, we must pause to examine briefly the Democratic Party’s sordid racist history.


The History of Civil Rights


As author Michael Scheurer so succinctly stated, the Democratic Party is the party of the four S’s:  Slavery, Secession, Segregation and now Socialism.  Because the Republican Party was started in 1854 as the anti-slavery party, and Republicans fought for freedom and equality for blacks, the early civil rights leaders, including Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, were Republicans.


The civil rights era of the 1960’s was necessary because, after the Civil War, the Democrats thwarted the efforts of Republicans to grant blacks civil rights and launched a reign of terror against Republicans, black and White— using the Ku Klux Klan, the terrorist arm of the Democratic Party—to deny blacks their civil rights and stop blacks from voting for Republicans.


Democrats used the Ku Klux Klan and other White supremacist groups to target Republicans because it was Republicans who amended the Constitution to grant blacks freedom (13th Amendment), citizenship (14th Amendment) and the right to vote (15th Amendment).  Republicans also passed the civil rights laws of the 1860’s, including the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Reconstruction Act of 1867 that was designed to establish a new government system in the Democrat-controlled South, one that was fair to blacks.


Shamefully, Democrats fought against anti-lynching laws, and when the Democrats regained control of Congress in 1892, they passed the Repeal Act of 1894 that overturned civil right laws enacted by Republicans. Republicans started the NAACP to counter the racist practices of the Democrats, and it took Republicans five decades to finally enact civil rights laws in the 1950’s and 1960’s over the objection of Democrats.


The Modern Civil Rights Era

During the civil rights era of the1960’s, it was the Democrats who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the protestors were fighting.  Democrat Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor in Birmingham let loose vicious dogs and turned skin-burning fire hoses on black civil rights demonstrators.  Democrat Georgia Governor Lester Maddox famously brandished ax handles to prevent blacks from patronizing his restaurant.  Democrat Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in front of the Alabama schoolhouse in 1963 and thundered, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  In 1954, Democrat Arkansas Governor Orville Faubus tried to prevent desegregation of a Little Rock public school.

Contrary to common belief, it was Republicans, not Democrats, who were pushing to pass the civil rights laws.  It was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who established the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, enforced the desegregation of the military, sent troops to Arkansas to desegregate the schools, and appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren to the U.S. Supreme Court which resulted in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision ending school segregation.  Eisenhower also supported the civil rights laws of 1957 and 1960.

President John F. Kennedy was not a Civil Rights Advocate

Democrat President John F. Kennedy is lauded as a civil rights advocate.  In reality, Kennedy voted against the 1957 Civil rights Act while he was a senator, as did Democrat Senator Al Gore, Sr.  After he became president, John F. Kennedy opposed the 1963 March on Washington by Dr. King that was organized by A. Phillip Randolph who was a black Republican.  President Kennedy, through his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy, had Dr. King wiretapped and investigated by the FBI on suspicion of being a Communist in order to undermine Dr. King.

In March of 1968, while referring to Dr. King’s leaving Memphis, Tennessee after riots broke out where a teenager was killed, Democrat Senator Robert Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, called Dr. King a “trouble-maker” who starts trouble, but runs like a coward after trouble is ignited.  A few weeks later, Dr. King returned to Memphis and was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Senator Everett Dirksen – The Forgotten Civil Rights Hero

Unknown by many today is the fact that it was Republican Senator Everett Dirksen from Illinois, not Democrat President Lyndon Johnson, who pushed through the civil rights laws of the 1960’s.  In fact, Dirksen was key to the passage of civil rights legislation in 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965 and 1968.  Dirksen wrote the language for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Dirksen also crafted the language for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which prohibited discrimination in housing.

Because of his long record of championing civil rights legislation, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. hailed Senator Dirksen for his “able and courageous leadership.”  The “Chicago Defender,” the largest black-owned daily at that time, praised Senator Dirksen “for the grand manner of his generalship behind the passage of the best civil rights measures that have ever been enacted into law since Reconstruction,”

Today little is known about the struggle to pass the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The law guaranteed equal access to public facilities and banned racial discrimination by any entity receiving federal government financing.  The law was an update of Republican Charles Sumner’s 1875 Civil Rights Act which had been stuck down by the Democrat-controlled US Supreme Court in 1883.

The chief opponents of the 1964 Civil Rights Act were Democrat Senators Sam Ervin, Albert Gore, Sr. and Robert Byrd.  Senator Byrd, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, filibustered against the bill for 14 straight hours before the final vote.  Former presidential candidate Richard Nixon lobbied hard for the passage of the bill.  When the bill finally came up for a vote, the House of Representatives passed the bill by 289 to 124.  Of Republicans in the House of Representatives 80% voted yes, and only 63% of Democrats voted yes.  The Senate vote was 73 to 27, with 21 Democrats in the Senate voting no, and only 6 Republicans voting no.

Equally important was the 1965 Voting Rights Act that authorized the federal government to abolish literacy tests and other means used to prevent blacks from exercising their constitutional right to vote that was granted by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. With images of violence against civil rights protestors led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shaping the national debate, Democrats in Congress decided not to filibuster the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  When the bill finally came up for a vote, both houses of Congress passed the bill.  In the House of Representatives, 85% of Republicans and 80% of Democrats voted for the bill.  In the Senate, 17 Democrats voted no, and only one Republican voted no.

Notably, in his 4,500-word State of the Union Address delivered on January 4, 1965, Johnson mentioned scores of topics for federal action, but only thirty five words were devoted to civil rights.  He did not mention one word about voting rights. Information about Johnson’s anemic civil rights policy positions can be found in the “Public Papers of the President, Lyndon B. Johnson,” 1965, vol. 1, p.1-9.

The statement by President Johnson about losing the South after passage of the 1964 civil rights law was not made out of a concern that racist Democrats would suddenly join the Republican Party that was fighting for the civil rights of blacks.  Instead, it was an expression of fear that the racist Democrats would again form a third party, such as the short-lived States Rights Democratic Party.  In fact, Alabama’s Democrat Governor George C. Wallace in 1968 started the American Independent Party that attracted other racist candidates, including Democrat Atlanta Mayor (later Governor of Georgia) Lester Maddox.

Goldwater was a Libertarian, not a Racist

A review of Senator Barry Goldwater’s record shows that he was a Libertarian, not a racist.  Goldwater was a member of the Arizona NAACP and was involved in desegregating the Arizona National Guard.  He supported the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960, as well as the constitutional amendment banning the poll tax.  His opposition to the more comprehensive Civil Rights Act of 1964 was based on his libertarian views about government.  Goldwater believed that the 1964 Act, as written, unconstitutionally extended the federal government’s commerce power to private citizens, furthering the government’s efforts to “legislate morality” and restrict the rights of employers.

It is instructive to read the entire text of Goldwater’s 1964 speech at the 28th Republican National Convention, accepting the nomination for president that is available from the Arizona Historical Foundation.  By the end of his career, Goldwater was one of the most respected members of either party and was considered a stabilizing influence in the Senate.

Senator Goldwater’s speech may be found also on the Internet at:

The Racists Democrats did not all Join the Republican Party

Contrary to the false assertions by Democrats today, the racist “Dixiecrats” did not all migrate to the Republican Party.  With the party slogan: “Segregation Forever!,” the Dixiecrats, who were Democrats, (a) formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party for the presidential election of 1948, (b) remained Democrats for all local elections and all subsequent national elections, and (c) declared that they would rather vote for a “yellow dog” than a Republican because the Republican Party was known as the party for blacks.

Today, some of those “Dixiecrats” continue their political careers as Democrats, including former Democrat Senator Ernest Hollings who put up the Confederate flag over the state capitol when he was the governor of South Carolina.

Another former “Dixiecrat” is Democrat Senator Robert Byrd who is well known for having been a “Keagle” in the Ku Klux Klan. There was no public outcry when Democrat Senator Christopher Dodd praised Senator Byrd as someone who would have been “a great senator for any moment,” including the Civil War.  Democrats denounced Senator Trent Lott for his remarks about Senator Strom Thurmond.  However, Senator Thurmond was never in the Ku Klux Klan and, after he became a Republican, defended blacks against lynching and the discriminatory poll taxes imposed on blacks by Democrats. If Senator Byrd and Senator Thurmond were alive during the Civil War, and Byrd had his way, Thurmond would have been lynched.

Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was not a Racist Appeal

Democrats expressed no concern when the racially segregated South voted solidly for Democrats; yet unfairly deride Republicans because of the thirty-year odyssey of the South switching to the Republican Party that began in the 1970’s with President Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”  Nixon’s strategy was an effort on the part of Nixon to get fair-minded people in the South to stop voting for Democrats who did not share their values and were discriminating against blacks.  Georgia did not switch until 2004, and some Southern states, including Louisiana, was still controlled by Democrats until the election of Republican Bobby Jindal in 2007.

Frances Rice is a lawyer, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and Chairman of the National Black Republican Association.  She may be contacted at:


2 responses to “Democrats and Racial Politics

  1. Lauren

    June 29, 2008 at 2:19 am

    Check out this amazing web ad for Sarah Palin. Who is this woman? McCain better pick her for VP.

  2. glass half full

    June 30, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    amazing article! i read it aloud to my children – highly educational!


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