“I think we just delivered the South to theRepublican Party for a long time to come.”
on passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act
Like many, my early years were characterized by large missteps and even larger rationalizations to deceive myself as to just how poor my judgment really was. As I grew older, I saw most of the errors of my ways and strove to base my decisions on truth and not illusions. Even though I still won’t walk under ladders, this general commitment to truth over falsehood still holds sway. Because of life’s lessons, I bridle when I hear lies spread by our nation’s leaders.
Which brings me to the current topic of discussion: the amazing ability of today’s Republican Party to fashion mythologies without the slightest grounding in verifiable fact … and the even more unfathomable realization that tens of millions buy into this shell game.
A case in point is all the chest thumping about race: “Oh, we do enjoy a voting grip on the Old South every bit as tight as the Democratic Party from 1877 and the end of Reconstruction until the 1960s. No denying that.”
But, so goes the argument, this all has nothing to do with racism. To suggest that this near-monopoly over Southern elections has anything to do with bigotry is just wrong-headed. Hell, all the torch-carrying Charlottesville marchers and militia members only show the sophisticated appreciation by Southern whites of the finely-wrought conservative ideas of men like Edmund Burke, Alexander Hamilton and Russell Kirk.
Before proceeding any further, I should set the record straight. My family first emigrated from Scotland in 1652 and, from Virginia, spread throughout the South. When war came, my relatives all wore gray. I hold no hatred for the South and I don’t vilify as racists the three quarters of a million men who fought. For the vast majority, the war was about defending their homeland against an invading army.
None of this means I don’t feel slavery was an abomination or that the war should have gone the other way. All it means is that I can let the facts speak for themselves. Even though GOP strategists convince all who will listen that this patently obvious falsehood is true, the facts say otherwise.
Beginning in 1877, federal troops pulled out of the former Confederacy and the antebellum power structure reasserted itself. The South became a one-party system — the Democratic Party. The Republicans were Lincoln’s party, the party of the despised, blue-coated army of occupation. This solid South held, even when one Republican administration followed another.
Cracks began to appear in 1960 when Nixon — running against a Catholic Yankee — carried Virginia, Tennessee and Florida. Still, the Deep South held steadfast.
It was the civil rights movement that realigned white Southern voting patterns. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, pushed hard by Texan Lyndon Johnson, was the real beginning of the end for Democratic hegemony in the South. Racism? Out of 22 senators representing the original Confederacy, only one, Ralph Yarborough of Texas, voted in favor.
That same year, Arizona’s Barry Goldwater opposed the Act and — for the first time since 1877 — broke open the Deep South, winning Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. As Johnson had foreseen, the old Confederacy was Democrat no longer.
White Southerners in overwhelming numbers now voted Republican, Black Southerners, when able to vote, voted overwhelmingly Democrat. The Democrats — two Kennedys and LBJ — had forced whites to swim in the same pools, sit in the same theaters and eat at the same lunch counters as Blacks. Outrage!
Since anything resembling equal voting rights for Blacks was many years to come, the white bloc was delivered again and again to the Republican Party.
Even though great efforts at registering young and nonwhite voters have yielded minor gains for Democrats, it is a telling fact that in all the eleven former Confederate states — save Virginia — both the lower and higher chambers are controlled by Republicans by huge margins.
In the face of these voting records, GOP spinmeisters still try to bamboozle what they must consider an ignorant national electorate that their iron grip on the South isn’t about race.
McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.