Democratic Party racism in 20th Century
Despite a cataclysmic Civil War and subsequent federal efforts to stymie racist policies, Democrats persisted in their efforts to codify their white supremacist ambitions in the Twentieth Century.
President Woodrow Wilson’s administration stood as a bastion of regressive racial policy.
In his book “Fear Itself,” historian Ira Katznelson wrote, “During the Wilson years… the composite of racism and progressivism came to dominate the Democratic Party.”
Under Wilson, federal agencies were resegregated. In 1914, Wilson threw civil rights leader William Monroe Trotter out of the White House over a disagreement about federal workplace segregation. Wilson maintained that segregation was good for blacks, much like Sen. John Calhoun’s belief that slavery was good for the enslaved.
In his book “Racism in The Nation’s Service,” author Eric Steven Yellin wrote, “Under Wilson, black clerks were less likely to be promoted and more likely to demoted — than in previous administrations.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt carried the mantle of white supremacy during his three-plus terms in office.
Once again, in “Fear Itself,” Katznelson wrote that Roosevelt’s New Deal relied on “an intimate partnership with those in the South who practiced white supremacy.” Furthermore, he wrote that racist Democrats “acted not on the fringes but as an indispensable part of the governing political party.”
Segregation in the Armed Forces established by Wilson remained the norm. Black reporters were barred from White House press conferences. The KKK, which reformed during the Wilson years, became a greater player in the Capitol.
In 1937 Sen. Hugo Black was nominated to the Supreme Court. Before his election to the Senate, Black was an active member of the Klan and represented Klansmen in court. His campaign manager for his first successful Senate campaign was James Esdale, Grand Dragon of the Alabama Klan.
Republicans protested the nomination. Black’s response was that this was how things worked in Alabama. Black said, “The Klan… was in effect the underground Democratic Party in Alabama.” This echoes Bill Clinton’s defense of Sen. Robert Byrd’s Klan involvement after his death in 2010.
FDR also acceded to Southern Democrats’ demand that a large portion of the New Deal programs go to the South and that blacks would be excluded from the programs.
Domestic and farm labor, two main occupations for blacks, were excluded from federal benefits. Millions of blacks were ineligible from receiving Social Security, unemployment and other benefits.
Programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the National Industry Recovery Act (NIRA) were segregated and offered the best jobs to whites. The FHA enforced a de facto housing segregation by loaning to blacks to buy homes in black areas but not white neighborhoods.
Black Americans were hit harder by the Great Depression than any other group. Even though blacks were on the short end of most federal programs and benefits, the scraps and leftovers were enough to get them to shift their allegiance to the Democrats.
Fast Forward to the Civil Rights era. Resistance to the incarnations of the Civil Rights acts came from Southern Democrats, AKA the Dixiecrats.
Eighteen Democrats filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1960 for 125 hours in Congress. A filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sprawled over 75 days before enough Republican votes were mustered to break it.
Republicans voted in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by margins of 80 percent in the House and 82 percent in the Senate, while Democrat support in the House and Senate was 63 and 69 percent.
President Lyndon Johnson signed the act into law not out of conviction, but for political expediency. He told Sen. Richard Russell (D-GA) that blacks needed to be mollified so as to keep them from voting Republican or else “it’ll be Reconstruction over again.” He also famously told two Democratic governors that passing this act would mean “I’ll have them n-----s voting Democratic for two hundred years.”
Democrats were also the opponents of school desegregation.
Efforts of Democratic governors Orval Faubus (Arkansas) and George Wallace (Alabama) were ultimately thwarted by federal interventions.
A lot of revisionist history has been concocted to cover inconvenient realities.
However, efforts by the online PragerU and activists like Candace Owens have been vigorously sowing the seeds of truth. May sunlight and fresh air bring those seeds to a fruitful harvest.
Todd Peterson is a resident of Washington Depot. This is the second of two op-eds he wrote on the history of racism in the Democratic Party. The first was published on Jan. 4.