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Hubert Humphrey is an unsung civil rights hero. He championed the civil rights platform at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and was instrumental in the Senate’s passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Rebutting Right Wing Zombie Lies On Civil Rights

On just about every Martin Luther King holiday, the right wing recycles their dishonest and tired myths on the history of civil rights in America. The GOP claims Martin Luther King as one of their own even though King was a progressive and many Republicans opposed the holiday in the first place. But the right wing never lets reality get in the way of a false talking point. That’s one of the reasons why I blog. Now it’s time to break down the two most pernicious right wing myths on civil rights.

  1. The Democrats Are The Party Of White Supremacy.

Yes, the Democrats were the party of white supremacy from the days of Andrew Jackson until the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration. What the GOP doesn’t tell you is that the Republican Party itself believed in white supremacy during that era. Moreover, the GOP would like you to believe that civil rights history ended in the early 1940s.

FDR made the first big step towards equality and integration in 1941 when he signed an executive order integrating the defense industry. Harry Truman followed upon FDR’s policies by integrating the armed forces by executive order in 1948.

The biggest turning point on civil rights that occurred in 1948 was when the Democratic Party adopted a civil rights platform for the first time in the party’s history at the Democratic National Convention. Future Republican Strom Thurmond led a southern walkout from the convention over civil rights and ran for president against Truman as a third party candidate that year.

In 1957, a Democratic majority Congress passed the first civil rights law since Reconstruction. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson broke a southern filibuster to pass this legislation with bi-partisan support. During the early post WWII period, most Republican members of Congress were moderates and supported civil rights laws. The 1957 law was a modest measure but it laid the foundation for the passage of three landmark civil rights laws in the 1960s.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act was supported by northern Democrats and moderate Republicans. It was opposed by the conservative wing of the GOP and southern Democrats. The likes of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It was their conservative faction that gained control of the GOP during the 1980s and 1990s. The southern Democrats who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act switched to the GOP over that law.

Similarly, Reagan and other conservative Republicans opposed the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In addition, Reagan and conservatives opposed the 1964 California Fair Housing Act.

What followed the passage of the various civil rights act in the 1960s was one of the most significant political realignments in U.S. history. White southern Democrats switched their allegiance to the GOP beginning in the 1964 election cycle. Numerous prominent Democrats like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms and Trent Lott joined the GOP.

Beginning with Goldwater in 1964, every Republican presidential nominee has run on racial resentment using code words like “states’ rights” and “law and order.” (Trump was unique in that he ran the most openly racist presidential campaign since George Wallace’s 1968 third party candidacy.) Those racial appeals and the switch in allegiance by southern white Democrats led to the GOP era of presidential dominance between the 1968 and 1988 election cycles. One of the key components of the then dominant Nixon-Reagan coalition were southern whites.

Subsequent to the passage of the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960s, the GOP has moved sharply to the right on civil rights. We have seen the passage of partisan voter identification/suppression laws in many red states. Moreover, the five GOP appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court green lighted racially based voter identification/suppression laws when they gutted the Voting Rights Act in the 2013 Shelby County Decision.

Long story short, the current Democratic Party supports civil rights and today’s GOP opposes them. It’s that simple.

2. A Higher Percentage of Republicans Than Democrats Supported The 1964 Civil Rights Act.

On the surface that claim is true but it is misleading. 82% of Republican Senators supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 69% of Democratic Senators supported passage of the law. Like I said, the southern Democrats who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 subsequently joined the GOP. Back in 1964, the GOP had a significant moderate wing which supported civil rights. Unfortunately, that moderate wing of the GOP is now extinct and the contemporary GOP is dominated by anti-civil rights extremists.

The poster boy for the GOP’s misleading claim about the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is Al Gore, Senior. It’s true that the former Vice President’s father voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act but now let’s hear the rest of the story conveniently omitted by GOP propaganda.

Al Gore, Senior subsequently voted for the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. He also apologized for his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act — saying it was the biggest mistake of his tenure in the Senate. In addition, he opposed Nixon’s two Southern nominees for the Supreme Court, Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell.

Those votes made Gore, Senior very vulnerable when he ran for re-election in 1970. Nixon and the GOP targeted Gore, Senior with their infamous race based “southern strategy.” Gore, Senior was knocked off by Republican Bill Brock in an election cycle which favored the Democrats. That’s how powerful the race issue was in that era.

We wouldn’t have civil rights in the absence of the Democratic Party. However, those past gains are under attack and have been partially rolled back. As Coretta Scott King said: “Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it in every generation.” No victory over the radical right is ever final in nature. We must be vigilant and never take a day off. Now let’s get back to work!

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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