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One of the most dramatic consequences of the Civil War and Reconstruction was that the South was effectively driven from national power for roughly six decades. Southerners no longer claimed the presidency, wielded much power on the Supreme Court, or made their influence strongly felt in Congress But beginning in the 1930s, the South was able to flex more and more political muscle, and by the 1970s some began to think that American politics and political culture were becoming 'southernized'.u How did this happen and what difference did it make to the development of the South and the United States?
Under segregation most blacks in the U.S. still lived in the South and were employed as sharecroppers, laborers and domestic servants, but the system of segregation and discrimination was also found everywhere in other sections of the country. Certainly virtually nothing was done for civil rights during the Progressive Era or the New Deal. No Democratic president seriously challenged the Southern wing of the party before Harry Truman, and because of his limited support for civil rights and desegregation of the military, the Dixiecrats split with the Democratic Party in 1948. It was a harbinger of the future, and explained why John F. Kennedy was so slow and hesitant to side with the civil rights movement before 1963. In any event, most of the time in Congress a coalition of Southern Democrats and Republicans was able to block any meaningful action on civil rights before 1964. Even when the Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 decision that outlawed segregated schools, the South resisted the attempts to integrate these dual school systems for twenty years. Indeed, all the members of Congress from that section signed a Southern Manifesto that vowed to resist all attempts at desegregation. In short, there had simply been no real chance for a Second Reconstruction in America before the mass protests for civil rights that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, and even their limited successes produced a major conservative backlash, led first and foremost by Alabama governor George Wallace. His split with the Democratic Party in the 1960s was a sign that many conservative Southern whites were moving into the Republican Party for the first time in history.
Thanks to the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, and the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, blacks and other minority groups made more progress in the U.S. In a decade than ever before in history. In 1964, after a decade of massive resistance by whites in the South, only 2% of blacks in the South and Border States attended integrated schools, but 25% did by 1967 (Gold 114). Segregated buses, restrooms, train cars, theaters, waiting rooms and restaurants all disappeared after 1964, while it also became illegal to fire women for being pregnant or having small children. These are the most important legacies of the Civil Rights Act. Politically, of course, it was disastrous for the Democratic Party, which was not able to elect a non-Southern president again until 2008. Indeed, Barack Obama was the first North Democrat to carry any state in the South since 1968. Lyndon Johnson was perfectly correct when he told his press secretary Bill Moyers that "I think we just delivered the South to the Republicans for a long time to come," but nevertheless it was the right thing to do (Gold 115).
In contrast to King's many references to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Alabama governor George Wallace reminded his audience that these were written by white Southern slaveholders -- Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Wallace would later run for president in 1964, 1968 and 1972 on a platform opposing civil rights and generally appealing to whites disaffected by protests, demonstrations, the antiwar movement, and other cultural, racial and religious issues. Ever since 1964, the Republicans have used a Southern Strategy to appeal to these disaffected white voters, which has allowed them to control the White House for most of the time since 1968 and enact some highly regressive social and economic policies. Wallace certainly had a very specific view of the Framers of the Constitution, and was correct in stating that they had not intended to grant equal citizenship and voting rights to blacks, even though they had "played a most magnificent part in erecting this great divinely inspired system of freedom" (Wallace 1963). He offered himself as an example of "courageous leadership to millions of people throughout this nation who look to the South for their hope in this fight to win and preserve our freedoms and liberties. So help me God" (Wallace 1963). He even argued that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted equal citizenship to all persons, was illegal and had been imposed on the South after the Civil War, which was identical to the views of the KKK during the First Reconstruction.
After thanking his supporters in the recent election, Wallace praised Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and reminded his listeners that the first Confederate president had taken the oath of office in the very same spot, in "this Cradle of the Confederacy, this very Heart of the Great Anglo-Saxon Southland" (Wallace 1963). He went on to deliver the only line for which this speech is remembered today, proclaiming that "I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny . . . And I say . . . segregation today . . . segregation tomorrow . . . segregation forever" (Wallace 1963). If King's signature line will always be "I have a dream," then Wallace's will be this rousing defense of segregation laws. Wallace also denounced federal judges who ordered the integration of public schools for trampling on the rights of white citizens and reiterated that "what I have said about segregation goes double this day . . . And what I have said to or about some federal judges goes TRIPLE this day" (Wallace 1963).
Wallace maintained that liberals on the Supreme Court had been Communist-inspired when they outlaws school segregation in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, and when they banned prayer in the public schools in Engel v. Vitale (1962). All of this became standard rhetoric on the New Right in America for decades after this speech, both in its secular and evangelical Protestant versions. Wallace's references to God and the Bible were always made in this context of liberal attacks on white Southerners, just as he insisted that any federal efforts to support civil and voting rights for blacks were really examples of reverse racism against whites. For this reason, he had "placed this sign, "In God We Trust," upon our State Capitol on this Inauguration Day as physical evidence of determination to renew the faith of our fathers and to practice the free heritage they bequeathed to us" (Wallace 1963). God also intended the races to live separate lives, as had the Founders of America, but now "communist philosophers" were attempting to destroy the 'free' society based on those sacred principles (Wallace 1963).
Real liberty, fraternity and equality could only be found under a legal system that separated the races rather than requiring them to be integrated. Then he warned King and other blacks who "follow the false doctrine of communistic amalgamation" that the whites were willing to defend the status quo at all costs (Wallace 1963). Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon made use of the Southern Strategy to pick up the votes of disaffected Southern Democrats by appealing to all these cultural and racial issues, and Republicans have continued this up to the present. Barry Goldwater picked up five states in Deep South in 1964, in a year that was otherwise a landslide for the Democrats. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan used the Southern Strategy extensively to appeal to disaffected white voters, and for this reason the Democrats almost never receive a majority of the white vote. Indeed, the Southern Strategy has intensified since Barack Obama became president, even though his administration has not focused on civil rights issues to any appreciable degree.
Civil rights did not lead to the end of poverty among blacks and other minorities, although it certainly helped create a black middle class fir the first time in U.S. history. King spent far more time addressing basic economic issues in his 1967 "Where Do We Go from Here?" speech, including the fact that blacks had half the income of whites and double the rate of unemployment, lived in substandard housing, and died in Vietnam at twice the rate of whites relative to their proportion of the population. Blacks attended college at only 5% the rate of whites while "75% hold menial jobs" (King 1967). In the ghettos of the North, they were "confined to a life of voicelessness and powerlessness," which has not really changed since 1967 (King 1967). King called for a guaranteed…[continue]
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