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Democratic Conventions in Philly, 2016 and 1948: the more some things change, the more others stay the same

by Dog Gone on August 1, 2016

A h/t to TPT’s Almanac for the reminder of this very famous and historic HHH speech.


As we have seen, at their respective conventions, Republicans have not changed, and the conservatives among them – the only members they tolerate after repeated purges – are still opponents of civil rights and pro-discrimination.  Democrats are still the inclusive progressives, making speeches that hold up well across history.


It will be an embarrassment to conservatives as historians look back at this period that they were so regressive and so divisive, embracing all matters of discrimination and exclusion.  President Obama echoed Hubert Humphrey’s speech in Philadelphia in 1948 when he spoke about the arc of history.  It is a particular shame that we must continue to rely on our judicial branch to overturn voter suppression laws, like those which were just overturned recently in Wisconsin, Texas, Kansas and North Carolina.  Conservatives are still trying to keep minorities from voting — and shame on them for it.


Per the accompanying Youtube notes, this speech ranked 66 in the top 100 speeches of the 20th century.



Additional bits of history — this speech, like the ones this past week, were made in Philadelphia, 68 years ago. At that convention, instead of Bernie supporters, Conservative democrats walked out in protest to the addition of a civil rights plank that would correct the wrongs of Jim Crow. This makes it all the more poignant that this convention was addressed by a sitting black president.

Moderates did not want to upset the conservative ‘Dixie-crats’, but liberal democrats pushed the civil rights position. Wikipedia provides the details:


In response, all 22 members of the Mississippi delegation, led by Governor Fielding L. Wright and former Governor Hugh L. White, walked out of the assembly. Thirteen members of the Alabama delegation followed, led by Leven H. Ellis. The bolted delegates and other Southerners then formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party (“Dixiecrats”), which nominated Strom Thurmond for President and Wright for Vice President.

…In the absence of three dozen Southern delegates who walked out of the convention with Thurmond, 947 Democrats voted to nominate Truman as their candidate (against 263 for Senator Richard Russell, Jr. of Georgia).

We have seen a variety of sources, from the conservative Wall Street Journal to Think Progress acknowledge that conservatives opposed civil rights, regardless of party, while the progressive wing of the Democratic party spearheaded the legislation in cooperation with liberal Republicans like the gravel-voiced Everett Dirksen of Illinois.  From Think Progress:


…it simply highlights the fact that politics in 1964 were not
ideologically aligned. The main block of support for white supremacy was
a group of Southern Democrats, most of whom were very conservative on
all issues, and all of whom were very conservative on the issue of race.
They were joined in their support for white supremacy by a smaller
block of non-southern conservative Republicans. Conservative movement
organs like The National Review supported white supremacy, as did Barry
Goldwater who was the leading conservative politician of the time. It’s a
very interesting historical fact about the United States of America
that for most of the twentieth century conservative southerners
generally belonged to the Democratic Party. But it’s also true that if
you think of American politics in terms of the history of ideological
struggle, civil rights is clearly an issue on which the liberals were
right and over time conservatives came around to that view.

After the Cleveland and Philadelphia conventions this month, we can see that at least the GOP is undergoing a similar fracturing process between extreme conservatives, and moderates who are consistently repudiating the excesses of the majority right represented at the convention.


Now that we have seen the increasingly radical and more extreme right have attempted to hijack credit for civil rights, it is worth noting where the votes came from, and whom, to pass the subsequent legislation that was drafted by Hubert Humphrey as a continuation of his efforts in 1948.(wikipedia again):


Note: “Southern”, as used in this section, refers to members of Congress from the eleven states that made up the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War. “Northern” refers to members from the other 39 states, regardless of the geographic location of those states.
The original House version:

  • Southern Democrats: 7–87   (7–93%)
  • Southern Republicans: 0–10   (0–100%)
  • Northern Democrats: 145–9   (94–6%)
  • Northern Republicans: 138–24   (85–15%)

The Senate version:

If the same vote were held in Cleveland, or in the Republican majority House and Senate, I would expect a vote that mirrored the conservative Southern Democrats and Republicans of 1968.


It is also worth noting that the right is STILL making many of the same arguments that went through the courts following enactment of the legislation. For example, Senator Rand Paul has promoted the position that businesses should have the right to discriminate for ANY reason, as a right of private property ownership. Humphrey was in the Senate representing Minnesota in cooperation with President Lyndon Johnson at the time this legislation, a direct extension and continuation of the policies in the 1948 speech,  Again, Wikipedia has an excellent summation:


There were white business owners who claimed that Congress did not have the constitutional authority to ban segregation in public accommodations. For example, Moreton Rolleston, the owner of a motel in Atlanta, Georgia, said he should not be forced to serve black travelers, saying, “the fundamental question…is whether or not Congress has the power to take away the liberty of an individual to run his business as he sees fit in the selection and choice of his customers”. Rolleston claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a breach of the Fourteenth Amendment and also violated the Fifth and Thirteenth Amendments by depriving him of “liberty and property without due process”. In Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964), the Supreme Court held that Congress drew its authority from the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, rejecting Rolleston’s claims.

Resistance to the public accommodation clause continued for years on the ground, especially in the South. When local college students in Orangeburg, South Carolina attempted to desegregate a bowling alley in 1968, they were violently attacked, leading to rioting and what became known as the “Orangeburg massacre.” Resistance by school boards continued into the next decade, with the most significant declines in black-white school segregation only occurring at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s in the aftermath of the Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968) court decision.

In view of the acceptance of White Supremacists, John Birchers and others that were rejected by mainstream conservatives in 1948 and 1968 it is well past time that the right came out of the darkness of bigotry and regressive politics. It is time the right stopped trying to turn the clock back to Jim Crow and worse.  It is time the right stopped their concerted efforts to make this a country that only acknowledges and gives preference and advantage to heterosexual white christian males (and even then mostly protestant males and crazy fundamentalists over Roman Catholics).


We’ve waited way to long already as a nation, especially a nation in the 21st century, not the 19th or shameful first half of the 20th.  THIS is just part of what makes the 2016 election so significant.

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