'Segregationist Democrats' and the Civil Rights Act

Everyone's entitled to an opinion, but Tom Ostrom's through-the-looking-glass letter to the editor on Wednesday cries out for a little leavening with facts.

We don't get into fact-checking most letters to the editor, unless it's an especially egregious error. But Ostrom's letter cries out for a few corrections, post-facto.

Here it is -- Ostrom is criticizing P-B reader Mark Liebow for his letter regarding an earlier letter by J. Grant Bentley:

Mark Liebow, in his letter of Nov. 22 , critiqued assertions in J. Grant Bentley’s Nov. 15 query about why African-American voters are so loyal to the Democrat party.

Bentley was correct in his contention that the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts (1957 and 1964) were opposed by significant numbers of (segregationist) Democratic U.S. Senators and wouldn’t have passed without solid Republican support.


First problem: Bentley didn't say "opposed by significant numbers of (segregationist) Democratic U.S. Senators." He said "most Democrats voted against" the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Bentley was absolutely incorrect about that -- a strong majority of Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act.

Liebow was correct. Ostrom was incorrect.

More from Ostrom's letter:

Bentley was correct when he pointed out that Republican President Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were crafted and passed by Republicans. Subsequently, moderate Democrats and Republicans dragged extremist Democrats beyond the legacies of the Confederacy — slavery and the KKK — and into the 20th century. The past should inform the present.

Today, some Democrats and "tolerance of diversity" liberals inexplicably vilify successful conservative black role models for their freedom-oriented, marketplace solutions to high minority unemployment and the often-insidious effects of the welfare system.

The solutions proposed by African-Americans such as Dr. Ben Carson, Col. Adam West, Justice Clarence Thomas and social activist Starr Parker should be listened to and applauded, not demonized.

Republicans and Democrats should free themselves from fundraising special interests and craft their policies to: create jobs, expand liberal arts and vocational-technical educational opportunities and facilitate social mobility and access to the American dream for every American.



Regarding "segregationist Democrats": Yes, there were some of those -- mostly Southerners, Sen. Strom Thurmond chief among them -- and they became Republicans, either at that time or over time, because of the Democratic Party's majority position on civil rights.

Thurmond, a pro-segregation leader from one of the most conservative states in the nation, South Carolina, went on to become a Republican lion for about 39 more years.

Here's how the vote totals came out on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, courtesy of Wikipedia:

By party

The original House version:

Democratic Party: 152–96   (61–39%)

Republican Party: 138–34   (80–20%)

Cloture in the Senate:


Democratic Party: 44–23   (66–34%)

Republican Party: 27–6   (82–18%)

The Senate version:

Democratic Party: 46–21   (69–31%)

Republican Party: 27–6   (82–18%)

The Senate version, voted on by the House:

Democratic Party: 153–91   (63–37%)

Republican Party: 136–35   (80–20%)



Now, just for kicks, here's how the Voting Rights Act of 1965 went down, by party, also from Wikipedia:

On March 25, 1965, the Senate voted for cloture 70-30, thus overcoming the threat of filibuster and limiting further debate on the bill. On May 26, the Senate passed the bill by a 77-19 vote (Democrats 47-16, Republicans 30-2); only Senators representing southern states voted against it.

...the House passed the Voting Rights Act by a 333-85 vote (Democrats 221-61, Republicans 112-24).

The House then approved the Conference Report version of the bill on August 3 by a 328-74 vote (Democrats 217-54, Republicans 111-20), and the Senate passed it on August 4 by a 79-18 vote (Democrats 49-17, Republicans 30-1).

On August 6, President Johnson signed the Act into law with Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks , John Lewis , and other civil rights leaders in attendance.

Johnson famously and ruefully said , after signing the Civil Rights Act, ''I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.'' Speaking generally, he was right.

So, if Ostrom's point is that "segregationist Democrats" were a problem in getting these landmarks of civil rights legislation passed, he's correct, and it's appropriate to note that Republicans contributed a majority in their caucuses to get the job done. But was it a Democratic initiative with a Democrat-controlled Congress and White House? Absolutely. To even remotely imply otherwise is ridiculous.


Regarding the Republicans and Democrats of 150 years ago -- yes, Lincoln and the Republicans were on the right side of history and the Democrats were the party generally opposed to abolition. Was it true from FDR forward that the Democrats were the progressive party on civil rights and Republicans generally dragged their feet?  I'll refer you to point 1, above.

But regarding Ostrom's comment, "'tolerance of diversity' liberals," I'm not sure what that means.


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