Voting on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, by Party

An earlier post here begins:

In her testimony Wednesday night, November 18, before the Texas State Board of education, Carole Haynes helpfully informed the Board members that

There has been so much controversy over the Civil Rights [legislation], … and the truth was, Republicans voted for it and the Democrats voted against it. … We need to set that record straight again, because it’s a social issue that divides us. … and if we will set that straight in our classrooms, and explain what really happened, then we get away from this blaming, … Let’s try to find a way the heal, by setting the record straight, by having honest history.

Click here to play the audio — or right-click to download the mp3 file — or [click here] for a page with links for audio and video of this clip, and of her entire presentation and colloquy with the Board members.

We wonder where “Dr. Haynes” (as she was addressed) came up with such information to “set the record straight,” for “having honest history.”

Bill Ames

After a little bit of digging, we need no longer wonder where Dr. Haynes got that line. As will be discussed in a later post, it seems clear that Bill Ames, the first to testify that evening, was instrumental in not only getting people like Haynes involved, but also feeding them their lines.

In Part II of a three-part series posted at The Texas Insider, Ames provided examples as what he sees as egregious decisions by the writing team that he participated on for developing standards for teaching U.S. History since reconstruction, including:

The group would not agree to add the point that higher percentages of Republicans than Democrats in Congress voted for the various civil rights bills of the 1960s.

This is an old chestnut that’s been used from time to time for historical revisionism to portray a false picture of what really happened. It covers over the difference between North and South; and when that difference is taken into account, we see that in both North and South, the percentage of Democrats voting for the Civil Rights legislation was higher for Democrats than for Republicans:

(Note: If you want to save the information above, you probably don’t want to save it from this page as an image file. What you see above, on your screen, is a .gif image file, which you can probably read well enough on screen, but which would print out as an ugly low-resolution bitmap image. For a better (scalable vector file) version, click on the image above (or right-click to download and save) for an acrobat .pdf file of what you see above. The web addresses will also work as live hyperlinks in the .pdf file version.)

As explained in the earlier post here, the fact that “higher percentages of Republicans than Democrats in Congress voted for the various civil rights bills of the 1960s” is literally true, but it is part of a history that is well known — no concealed, obscured, or covered up. There is no problem including that story in high school history courses and textbooks. The problem would be if the true story is not being told, but just that single solitary fact is used to make some kind of statement about the difference between the two parties today, as was being done by Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and the 2006 radio ad discussed in the earlier post. Those aggregate percentages, without the differentiation between northern and southern members of Congress, could pertain to the 21st century Democratic and Republican parties only if Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond could be counted as 21st-century Democratic party members, which they cannot be.

I need to stress that this (and the previous) post are not written for purposes of defending today’s Democratic Party, attacking Virginia Foxx or Michael Steele, or for any other politically partisan advocacy. Why I do need to stress this is because the activists including Bill Ames and others have been framing the social studies standards development process in Texas as a conflict between “leftist agenda [of] a group of educators, some of whom are liberal activists, [who] have descended on Austin [and] have been busily rewriting U. S. history, revising the story of the most successful experiment in history … and replacing it with their own negative view of America …,” on one side, versus “mainstream Texans” like himself, whose “focus [is] on ensuring that our youth get an accurate historical view of the United States.”

This (and the previous) post are written with concern for “ensuring that our youth get an accurate historical view of the United States,” rather than the false view that Virginia Foxx and others have been trying to project, with their deceptive use of such practices as concealing the historical context while alluding to the aggregated voting percentages. Factually accurate statistics can always be used, without their necessary context, for telling lies. As they say, “Figures never lie, but liars figure.”

This is not partisanship in terms of left versus right or Democrats versus Republicans. If this blog is partisan, it is a partisanship for sound and effective curriculum.

For this blog, it cannot be just a question of what’s accurate. Not everything that’s accurate can be addressed in any finite curriculum. The question is, rather, considering all the possibilities of things that could be included accurately, is this a story that could be used to accomplish purposes of sound and effective curriculum?

I think it’s a story that really could be used for really worthwhile purposes in history education. (That’s a question that is barely even asked in the Texas process, where there seems to be a real poverty of purposes, and the arguments mostly center on which names should be on the “including” list, which on the “such as” list, and which names not on either list.)

There’s a common way of thinking about politics in the U.S. according to which politicians always make decisions based on consideration of political advantage or expedience. Some might see this as cynical, others simply as realistic. But Lyndon Johnson is reported to have said, right when he signed the Civil Rights Bill into law, that this act would cost the Democrats the South for a generation. So here we have a story in which Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats are reported to have done something of monumental importance knowing full well that it would be extremely costly to their electoral interests for decades to come. They did it, despite enormous costs politically, because it was the right thing to do.

That’s the story, but is it really true? Are there other possible interpretations of what was done, by whom, and why? What alternative hypotheses and interpretations are worth pursuing, and what evidence can be found to help us evaluate and judge the alternatives? Those are the kinds of questions that are pursued by real historians, and pursued in real history classes in other states besides Texas where (at least as far as we can tell from the proceedings of the SBOE) history is all about the mentioning of names and decontextualized facts for students to just swallow.

The story of President Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, knowing how costly it would be for his party politically, can also be used heuristically to pose the question of how and when circumstances and human character combine to bring about such actions and commitments. This need not be treated as something unique to one party or one historical event. Students could be asked to identify and consider other cases, for example, in which George Bush (either one) or Ronald Reagan made decisions based on what they judged to be the right thing to do, even knowing that it would be extremely costly for themselves and/or their party politically. Gerald Ford pardoning Dick Nixon, maybe? (You can contribute by adding your own examples of such cases — especially examples of such actions and decisions by Republicans — by suggesting them in comments on this post, using the Post a Comment box for this article.)

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Creative Commons License“Voting on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, by Party,” by James Anthony Whitson, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at www.holycross.edu.
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    2. Whitson, James Anthony. “Voting on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, by Party.” (2009), https://curricublog.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/1964-civil-rights-parties-voting/ (accessed Month date, 20xx).
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  5. billeastland
    Posted March 26, 2015 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Tony, you write that the fact that Republican votes for 1960s civil rights laws were greater by percentage than Democrat votes is an old chestnut to gloss over sectional differences is itself an old chestnut to ignore the fact that both Congressional parties were overwhelmingly in favor of civil rights legislation from the late 1950s all the way through the 1960s. The only resistance to the CRAs of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968 was from the overwhelmingly Democratic South. The rest of the nation, whether Democratic or Republican, was overwhelmingly in favor of all these bills.

    The real “old chestnut” here is the claim by revisionist historians that there was more support from Democrats than from Republicans. In every case, each CRA had greater percentages from Republicans than from Democrats (and you did say that about the 1964 act), but that should not distract from the strong support from Democrats, it is just that it was not as strong as that from Republicans.

    The overall point is that there was strong bi-partisan support for this type of legislation. Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all held similar views and proposed or supported the legislation and worked to implement it. Both party platforms from the 1950s on supported civil rights legislation although it can be strongly argued that the Republicans were there first and had significantly stronger planks on the issue when it mattered. That is a function of the fact that Democratic Conventions had to contend with a revanchist South and therefore had watered-down planks.

    But the real history that should be taught is not the one proposed by either side in the debate over Texas textbooks. The attempt by both sides is to reflect a post-70s point of view that did not exist in the period prior to the 80s. Historians need to be honest about the ideological context of the times they write about. The truth is there was broad agreement between the two parties in the period after WWII and before McGovern and Reagan. After the revolutions fostered by both, the parties began to diverge sharply so that by the beginning of the 21st Century, there was almost no issue on which they agreed.

    Regarding Johnson’s prediction, he was more right than he thought because it is highly unlikely the South will ever return to the Democratic party, at least within the context of how we think about the parties today. Such a change awaits a new weltanschauung. But he was also wrong because it took more than a generation before the loss of the South was complete, and it took quite a while to develop. Not until the Reagan Revolution did Southern voters move in large numbers into the Republican Party and it was not until the Gingrich Revolution in 1994 that the loss of the South was complete. In fact, it can be argued that it took the dying out of Southerners born before the first World War-those whose grandparents actually fought in the Civil War–and the great migration of northerners to the south that began in the 1970s, to create the cracks that toppled the wall of the Solid South.

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3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] the Board or to a legislative committee if they don’t get their way. Consider, for example, Bill Ames complaining that the writing team that he was on “would not agree to add the point that higher […]

  2. […] too long, my college students make connections with the Civil Rights Laws of the 1960’s, and with the restaurant sit-ins and other demonstrations that led to changes in the laws, and to […]

  3. […] As you can see, majorities of both Democrats and Republicans supported the Civil Rights Act.  Republicans just liked the idea a whole lot more than Democrats. […]

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