Debunking the myth that Republicans love to repeat.
Are Democrats the party of racists? This myth surrounding the Dixiecrats must be addressed. This is an argument that I have heard Republicans and conservatives float out a lot. Every time I hear conservatives talk about racism they always say that the Democrats are the “party of the Klan” and that they were the ones that supported segregation. There is a half-truth to this, but of course conservative Republicans always embellish the facts to support their dogma.
Are Democrats the Party of the KKK? Well, yes and no. It is a historic fact that the Ku Klux Klan was initially founded by mainly Southern Democratic voters in the aftermath of the Civil War. I recently saw a conservative friend of mine, who I studied under in community college, post about an incident in 1868 in which a mob of KKK (who were Democrats in this time) attacked and killed a group of 300 black Republicans.
The issue here is the fact that the historic context is completely missed by conservatives, and often just plain embellished. Yes, in 1868 the Democrats were the racist party. However, what also must be known is that the Democrats were also the more conservative party at the time. The Republican Party, believe it or not, were the more liberal party.
What modern conservatives today are trying to imply is that the KKK and southern segregationists were liberals. This is a complete misrepresentation of historic polarity. From the Civil War up until about 1948, the Southern Democrats were the most conservative wing of the Democratic Party. In fact, Southern Democrats ran the South like one-party states. Republican, mostly liberal, candidates were practically barred from being elected in both voter mindset and electoral system.
Then, in the 1948 election, Harry Truman ran on a limited civil rights platform which greatly angered the southern conservative Democrats. Truman also issued the executive order to desegregate the military, which further upset the Southern Democrats. Truman was seen as too liberal, which caused them to split from the Democratic Party in 1948 to form the “Dixiecrat” Party to run as a conservative alternative to Truman. By the way, Truman won without them. In fact Southern voters who are registered as Democrats, yet vote mainly Republican, are still referred to as Dixiecrats.
The split of Southern Democrats from the party became even more solidified when the majority of the liberal Democrats and LBJ supported and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The liberals of the Republican Party supported these laws as well. Yes, Republicans actually had liberals in its party once upon a time. Those who voted against the law were the conservatives of both parties. LBJ famously said after the passage of the Civil Rights Act; “I think we just lost the South.”
Indeed, this would be the trend that would come to pass. Richard Nixon and his troll of a cohort Pat Buchanan in the 1970s implemented an election plan called “The Southern Strategy.” Put simply, this strategy was designed to play off of the racist anxieties of Southern white Democratic voters. The plan worked beautifully. It worked so well, that the Southern Strategy practically shifted the polarity of the political parties.
The Democrats, who had a strong conservative base in the South, became a more liberal party as the more conservative elements fled and began to vote Republican. This in turn wound up forcing out, over time, the liberals of the Republican Party as the Democratic conservatives began voting en-mass for the Republican Party. The stalwart attitudes of the conservatives gave no leeway for liberals to grow and survive in the Republican Party.
Yes, in historic perspective the Democrats were a more racist (conservative) party. However, I emphasize conservative. Liberals did not found the KKK, nor did they support segregation. By social standards, these were more conservative minded people at least in regards to race. These were not leftist, liberal minded champions of social justice and equality. These were regressive, more conservative, minded voters.
Democrats were once the party of racism, but that banner changed a long time ago. The conservative segregationist Democrats and their legacy of voters now overwhelmingly vote Republican. The polarity shift created two very different parties than the ones that existed in 1868 or even 1964. The Democrats are now more liberal and the Republicans more conservative because of the flight of Southern segregationist Democrats to the Republican Party. Republicans, please stop misrepresenting history when you say “Democrats are the racists.”