Monday, December 17, 2012

Strom Thurmond: Democrat Segregationist



(D-South Carolina)

The Washington Post is reporting that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) will appoint Congressman Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to replace retiring Senator Jim Demint (R-S.C.).  As the story points out, Congressman Scott will be the only African-American serving in the United States Senate. The story also contains some misleading material, however.  In particular, the story points out that Scott was elected to Congress after defeating the late Senator Strom Thurmond's son.  In so doing, the story implies that the elder Thurmond was a Republican when he led the opposition to desegregation.  In particular, the story states:

"Scott was first elected to the House in 2010, winning an open seat after defeating the son of longtime Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the former segregationist who held the state’s other Senate seat for nearly 50 years until 2003."

Readers unfamiliar with history will assume that the elder Thurmond was a Republican for his entire career and thus was a member of the Republican Party when he most vehemently and actively opposed desegregation.   Both assumptions are false, however. (Ann Althouse flagged this mistake earlier today.)  First elected as Governor of South Carolina in 1946, Thurmond was a Democrat his entire life, until 1964, when he switched parties.  Like other Southern Democrats of his era, Thurmond opposed desegregation and resisted Civil Rights.  Most famously, Thurmond ran for President on a segregationist platform in 1948, under the banner of the "States Rights Democratic Party," commonly known as the Dixiecrats, founded by disaffected Southern Democrats.   He won four states dominated by Democrats: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina.   He also received more votes than Republican nominee Thomas Dewey in Georgia.   Indeed, in some of these states Thurmond out-polled Dewey by extraordinary margins.  In Mississippi, for instance, Thurmond earned 167,000 votes, compared to less than 6,000 for Dewey.  In South Carolina, he earned just over 102,000 votes, compared to 5,283 for Dewey.   (See this page for state-by-state returns in the 1948 Presidential election.)

It's no surprise that Thurmond clobbered Dewey, the nominee of the party of Lincoln, in Democrat strongholds.   Like the modern Republican party, the Republican Party of 1948 embraced civil rights, equal opportunity and desegregation.  According to the party's 1948 platform

"One of the basic principles of this Republic is the equality of all individuals in their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This principle is enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution of the United States; it was vindicated on the field of battle and became the cornerstone of this Republic. This right of equal opportunity to work and to advance in life should never be limited in any individual because of race, religion, color, or country of origin. We favor the enactment and just enforcement of such Federal legislation as may be necessary to maintain this right at all times in every part of this Republic.

We favor the abolition of the poll tax as a requisite to voting.

We are opposed to the idea of racial segregation in the armed services of the United States."

Harry Truman, of course, defeated both Dewey and Thurmond.  The Democratic party welcomed Thurmond back shortly thereafter, where he joined fellow Democratic segregationists like George Wallace, Orville Faubus, and Robert Byrd, just to name the most "prominent."   Though, to his credit, Truman did, for instance, order desegregation of the Arrmed Forces, over the objection of many members of his own party.

In short, like the modern Republican party, the 1948 Party was no home for segregationists like Thurmond.    Indeed, just six years after the 1948 election, Dewey's running mate, Earl Warren, authored Brown v. Board of Education.  Brown held that school segregation violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which Congressional Republicans had authored and proposed during Reconstruction, as a vehicle for protecting African-Americans from oppression at the hands of Democratic officials in the former confederate states.  Three years later, President Eisenhower (R.-Kansas) sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to enforce Brown, despite opposition from numerous Democrats.  (Eisenhower is pictured above with various Civil Rights leaders, including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.)

Unbowed by Brown, Thurmond also led dozens of fellow Democrats in the House and Senate in opposition to the 1957 Civil Rights Act, supported by President Eisenhower, launching the longest filibuster ever in the Senate.  (Thurmond is shown above during the filibuster.)  Despite opposition by Thurmond and some other Democrats, the Act  passed by a comfortable margin, with every Republican Senator, including Barry Goldwater, voting "Aye."   (I have not been able to locate the roll call votes in the House.)  (A majority of Democrats, it should be noted, joined their Republican colleagues and voted for the legislation.) 

To be sure, Thurmond switched political parties in 1964.  He never publicly renounced his 1948 run for President or his opposition to Brown, for instance.  At the same time, when he ran for President in 1948, opposed Brown during the 1950s, and filibustered the 1957 Civil Rights Act, he was no Republican byt was instead opposing Republicans and their policies.