Brett Marston challenges Steven Taylor’s assertion that Democrats were the chief opponents of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s:

Dems need to learn how to play the game of political nastiness if they want to counter the Republican tide of the past few decades. At the very least they will need to learn to remind Republicans, continually, that there was such a thing as a southern strategy, and that this really did represent the Republican party’s voluntary renunciation of the honor of being the heirs to “the party of Lincoln,” and that it was Democratic willingness to take on the segregationist wing of their party that drove the major civil rights bills of the 1960s. With all due respect to my political science colleague at Poliblog, it is emphatically not to miss the point to focus on these facts, facts that are within the living memory of my parents’ generation.

Apparently not. While it’s certainly true that successive Democrat presidents were leaders in getting the legislation passed, Southern Democrats were the main opponents. The legislative record is easy enough to access (a 20 second Google search sufficed):

The House of Representatives debated the bill for nine days and rejected nearly one hundred amendments designed to weaken the bill before passing H.R .7152 on February 10, 1964. Of the 420 members who voted, 290 supported the civil rights bill and 130 opposed it. Republicans favored the bill 138 to 34; Democrats supported it 152-96. It is interesting to note that Democrats from northern states voted overwhelmingly for the bill, 141 to 4, while Democrats from southern states voted overwhelmingly against the bill, 92 to 11. A bipartisan coalition of Republicans and northern Democrats was the key to the bill’s success. . . .

Senator Richard Russell, Democrat from Georgia, led the so-called opposition forces. The group was also known as the “southern bloc.” It was composed of eighteen southern Democrats and one Republican, John Tower of Texas. Although a hopeless minority, the group exerted much influence because Senate rules virtually guaranteed unlimited debate unless it was ended by cloture. The “southern bloc” relied on the filibuster to postpone the legislation as long as possible, hoping that support for civil rights legislation throughout the country would falter. The Democratic leadership and Humphrey could not control the southern wing of the party.

There you have it.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brett says:

    Everyone knows that the southern democrats opposed the major civil rights bills of the 1960s. In fact, in my post I say that it was northern democratic challenges to that opposition that allowed the civil rights bills to be passed. That’s pretty standard political history of the 1960s and I don’t see what’s particularly controversial about it.

    Southern Democrats were in fact segregationists. They lost because northern democrats decided to go after african-american votes and realized they could win by doing so. Those segregationists then defected to the Republican party (courted by Goldwater, among others).

    Republicans are certainly entitled to take credit for voting for civil rights bills in the early 1960s. It’s what happened afterwards that’s really important. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s going to take more than a selective reading of history for the Republicans to reclaim the mantle of the “party of Lincoln,” I’m afraid. . .

  2. PoliBlogger says:

    Indeed, the point I was mainly making was that the idea that the main reason (or the reason which started the movement) for the South becoming strongly Republican, rather than strongly Democratic, was Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”. This was what Klein intimated in the Time piece and what I heard ad nauseam during the whole Lott fiasco at the beginning of the year. I find the allegation both empirically untrue and to smack of sophisticated name-calling, as it implies that the only possible reason for southerners to vote Republican is because they are racists. This is manifestestly not the case.

    Rather, as James rightly points out, the real shift in southern partisan politics starts more in the 1980s–and isn’t fully complete in some places. Further, even in the Presidential arena, the actual record is more complicated than to say that the Republican move began with Nixon. Indeed, in 1968, the deep, deep South went for Wallace–clearly for racial reasons. Of course in 1972, practically everyone went for Nixon, so that isn’t a very good test either.

    I have been doing some research on this issue to provide some facts to go with the actual argument, which I will hopefully be posting tonight or tomorrow some time.