The Story: Civil Rights Opposition

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Yes, but Truman really means it.

Strom Thurmond

Wallace blocks entry

Shortly thereafter, 6,000 southern politicians led by Thurmond, Frank Dixon of Alabama, Leander Perez of Louisiana, and Fielding Wright of Mississippi met in Birmingham, Alabama, to recommend an alternative presidential ticket. The dissidents formed a splinter party, the States’ Rights Party, and chose Thurmond and Wright as their candidates for president and vice president. The new party’s platform was based primarily on segregationist politics, and also included anti-unionism and constitutional conservatism. Composed primarily of southern Democrats, the party members were called Dixiecrats.

Suddenly the one-party system of the Solid South, which had reigned virtually unchallenged since Reconstruction’s end in 1877, was in jeopardy. Over the course of seven decades, only two presidential candidates outside the Democratic Party had won the favor of a southern state, Warren Harding in 1920 and Herbert Hoover in 1928 (Bullock 2). This longstanding allegiance ended with the 1948 formation of the States’ Rights Party. The Solid South, which had been primarily held together by a regional distaste for “Yankee Republicanism” and the racial anxieties of white southerners, would soon see major shifts in political alignment.

In four out of five Deep South states, Thurmond and Wright appeared on the 1948 Democratic ticket and won. They received 1.2 millions votes to carry Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina. In Georgia, Truman retained the Democratic label and caused Thurmond and Wright’s only Deep South upset. Truman was also triumphant throughout the remainder of the South and won the overall election. His strong stance on civil rights had won Truman the support of African American voters – and with it, the 1948 presidential election.

Defeated by the party to which they had hitherto been so loyal, many white southerners started to rebel against the national Democratic Party. Those who had previously rejected “Lincoln’s party” newly aligned themselves with the Republican Party. As a result, Republicans at the local and national level began winning the votes of white southerners. In the 1952 presidential election, Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower added to inroads made in 1948 by winning Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia (Bass 6). In 1956, Louisiana became the first Deep South state to vote Republican, making Eisenhower the first Republican nominee to win the majority of Southern electoral votes since 1872 (Bullock 3).