If you are even slightly a leftist such as the folks I covered on the Boston Common this weekend one of the things that you believe without question is that the only reason why the GOP has control of legislatures in the south is because of a backlash over the civil rights act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965.
This has been an article of faith for years and it’s quite handy when you want to explain away uncomfortable electoral defeats. Why woo voters when you can simply cry “racism”.
It’s an easy to sell argument, after all the pre 1964 south was called the solid south for a reason. Through 1892 no former slave state (including border states) voted for a GOP presidential candidate. No state of the old confederacy voted GOP post reconstruction till Tennessee voted Harding 1920. Through 1955 when the fight for civil rights started looming large the GOP only managed to take states in the old confederacy two more times once when Eisenhower after winning World War to managed to take Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Virginia and once in the Herbert Hoover landslide of 1928 that added North Carolina to that list.
But the real power of the Democrats in the south wasn’t in presidential elections where they were outnumbered. It was in the state legislatures, where, with the exception of Missouri which was pretty competitive in the first half of the 20th century A republican speaker of the House in the old south and most of the old slave states (I’m missing data for Delaware) just didn’t exist.
And then came Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson
In 1957 Johnson in an effort “sanitize” himself on civil rights for a presidential run pushed through the first civil rights bill post reconstruction. When he became president after JFK’s murder in 1963 he managed to get the Civil Rights act of 1964 passed doing so with only 8 votes from the old confederacy in the house and none in the senate, he followed that up with the Voting Rights act in 1965 and declaring that he would secure the black vote for Democrats for the next 2 centuries (although he used somewhat different phrasing describing the black vote, employing a word rhyming with “trigger”).
It is at this point that according to our friends on the left that the old solid racist south (including many of the slave holding border states) decided to abandon the Democrat party and started voting GOP
However there is one problem that stands in the way of that argument: The facts.
As Tip O’Neill once said all politics is local and nothing better reflects the feelings of a local electorate than a vote for a state legislator. So if the left’s meme is to be believed it shouldn’t have taken for than a few two year election cycles for a combination of mass defections and outraged old racists to fill the south with GOP speakers in their houses. So let’s take a look at a chart that lists all the old slaveholding states and see how quickly those racist southerners and old segregationists managed to flip their states to their new favorite party.
[table id=1 /]
As you can see when the data is presented the left’s article of faith runs smack dab of a factual cliff.
With the exception of a two year period of in Tennessee when a democrat defector gave the GOP the house for one term, No state of the old confederacy elected a GOP house until 1995 and even with that happened in North and South Carolina, North Carolina flipped back to the Democrats the very next election and stayed there until 2011.
Of those states only one other (Florida) joined South Carolina as a solid GOP state in the 20th century five of the states flipped this decade. And think about it. If you believe our friends on the left then Alabama the state where Martin Luther King wrote is famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail and Mississippi the state where the famous case of the murder of civil rights workers dramatized in the film Mississippi Burning took place in the 60’s were so apparently so outraged over the Civil Rights act, the Voting Rights act and LBJ that their voters they waited nearly 2 1/2 generations to vote GOP.
That’s simply not credible.
Now as this is such an article faith for our Democrat friends they will sooner imagine armies of ancient segregationists bussed from Nursing Homes on election day each years than believe the data.
Because there is a much more credible explanation as to why the left is losing the South that’s staring them in the face but that’s a post for later this week.
Update: Heard back from the Delaware legislative librarian 9/21. She was out on Friday but when she got back she kindly provided me both house and senate info from 1965 to present that I’ve used to update my table. Many Thanks
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