Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Cheney, Goodman, and Schwerner disappeared on June 21, 1964. On July 2, Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law. It's pleasant to think that the disappearance of the three men "shocked the conscience of the nation" and helped bring about a significant improvement in American attitudes on race, but it's interesting to note that, a couple of weeks later, there wasn't much evidence of a change for the better at the Republican convention in San Francisco.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

The '64 Republican convention took place from July 13 through July 16; at the time the bodies of the three men who'd disappeared in Mississippi hadn't yet been found. In Pillar of Fire, his second book on Martin Luther King, Taylor Branch describes some of what happened at that convention, relying largely on contemporaneous reports from the black press. Recall that the up to this point the GOP had been a far friendier party to blacks than the Democratic Party:

..."GOP Convention Spurns Negroes," cried the Cleveland Call and Post. "Negro Delegates to GOP Convention Suffer Week of Humiliation," headlined the Associated Negro Press newswire. "The Great Purge of Negroes," announced Jet. "GOP Negroes Washed Away in the Goldwater Ocean," said the Chicago Defender. Their focus was less on the Goldwater nomination itself than on the institutional rejection of cherished Republican fixtures such as George W. Lee of Memphis, delegate to every GOP convention since 1940, who had "seconded the nomination of Robert A. Taft" in 1952. The San Francisco convention, sweeping aside Lee's credentials claim that he and two hundred "regular" Negro Republicans had been railroaded out of the Shelby County caucus, seated "lily-white" delegations in Tennessee and every other Southern state "for the first time since Reconstruction Days," reported the Pittsburgh Courier, noting that the caucus of Southern Republicans, "to add insult to injury," named its hotel headquarters Fort Sumter....

California Eagle of Los Angeles protested a seldom-mentioned fact about Goldwater's victory over [Nelson] Rockefeller in the decisive June 2 primary: it gained convention seats and control of party machinery for a slate of eighty-six California delegates that "by deliberate choice" was exclusively white. Nationwide, by slating no Negro candidates and defeating most opposing tickets, Goldwater strategists whittled the number of Negro delegates to a minuscule fourteen of 1,308, roughly one per hundred, in what newspapers called the fewest "ever to be certified to a Republican convention."

... The
Cleveland Call and Post reported that George Fleming of New Jersey ran from the hall in tears, saying Negro delegates "had been shoved, pushed, spat on, and cursed with a liberal sprinkling of racial epithets." George Young, labor secretary of Pennsylvania, complained that Goldwater delegates harassed him to the point of setting his suit jacket on fire with a cigarette. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson summarized his "unbelievable hours" as an observer on the convention floor: "I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany."

There you have it: Less the a month after the disappearance of the three civil-rights workers in Mississippi, a new, monochrome, nasty GOP was on display in San Francisco. Sure, the Democratic Party was still lousy with racists -- but not for many more years.

In fact, Branch notes something remarkable about one of those Democratic racists, Alabama governor George Wallace: He was threatening a third-party run for the presidency (a threat he'd make good on in '68), and through an intermediary he told Barry Goldwater that he'd drop his presidential bid if Goldwater as president would let him vet Supreme Court nominees -- or if Goldwater would make him his running mate.

Goldwater said no, and Wallace backed off, but there you have it -- an open declaration by a racist Southern Democrat that the Goldwater's new GOP seemed like a fine new home for a Democrat alienated by civil rights.

Remember that the next time Ann Coulter starts proclaiming, as she so often does, that the Democratic Party is America's party of racists.

No comments: