Smearing the South With False Charges of Racism
By James D. Agresti
September 20, 2016
Blunt accusations of racism have become a common feature of public discourse over the past few years. With this, the views of both whites and blacks about the state of race relations in America have sunk to the lowest levels they have ever been since Gallup began polling on this issue in 2001.
Beyond claims that specific individuals are “racist,” certain media outlets, activists, and politicians have leveled this charge at broad groups of Americans. For example:
- The New York Times editorial board has declared that “many” of the nation’s 900,000 “police officers see black men as expendable figures on the urban landscape, not quite human beings.”
- Hillary Clinton recently stated that “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters are a “basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.” She later walked this back a little by writing that she regrets saying “half.”
- The official website of #BlackLivesMatter contends that “virulent anti-Black racism … permeates our society.”
Such claims frequently conflict with documented facts about race and violence, the use of lethal force by police, and the nature of racial income disparities. Hence, false allegations of racism can often be thoughtfully dismissed by rational and informed people.
However, one of the broadest, most persistent, and hardest-to-measure allegations of racism is directed at more than 65 million white Americans who live in the South. For more than 40 years, various scholars, commentators, and journalists have proclaimed that white Southerners are more likely to vote for Republicans than Democrats, because white Southerners are racist, and Republicans appeal to their racism.
As the common story goes, when the national Democratic Party embraced civil rights in the 1960s, white Southern racists began switching to the Republican Party, which is why the South mainly votes for Republicans today. This supposedly took place after a hundred-year period (from 1865 to 1965) during which:
- Democrats repeatedly supported the Ku Klux Klan, while Republicans fought the Klan both legislatively and physically.
- Republicans passed and enforced a litany of civil rights laws over the objections of Democrats.
- Democrats enacted laws that effectively banned most black people from voting in the South.
- Democrats blocked Republicans from passing federal anti-lynching laws, as more than 1,200 African Americans were lynched.
- Democratic President Woodrow Wilson forced white and black federal employees into different cafeterias, bathrooms, and work areas, while he wantonly fired and demoted black federal workers who had been hired and promoted under Republican presidents.
- Democrats passed “New Deal” laws with provisions that discriminated against minorities, some of which Republicans later revised to forbid racial bias.
- Democrats in certain states explicitly banned black people from participating in their primary elections.
- 80% of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as compared to 65% of Democrats.
Nevertheless, after a century of Republicans fighting for civil rights, certain prominent individuals like Princeton University professor Sean Wilentz claim that Republicans abruptly made a U-turn in the 1960s. These arguments are typically based on cherry-picked anecdotes that fall apart when examining the big picture.
For example, Wilentz singles out Strom Thurmond, a leading Democrat segregationist who became a Republican in the 1960s. Wilentz claims that “segregationist Southern Democrats (led by Strom Thurmond)” went “fleeing into the Republican Party” after 1964. Likewise, a Daily Beast commentary by Jordan Michael Smith states that “Thurmond and his compatriots moved to the Republican Party” when Democrats began supporting civil rights. And a Bloomberg editorial by Francis Wilkinson asserts that “approximately 100 percent of racist Southern Democrats switched parties to become Republicans between 1960 and 1980.”
The public records of elected officials prove those claims to be categorically false. Among the 21 Democratic Senators who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, only Thurmond joined the Republican Party. The other 20 remained in the Democratic Party for their entire congressional careers.
Likewise, some of the nation’s most infamous segregationists were lifelong Democrats. This includes (but is not limited to) George Wallace, Bull Connor, Lester Maddox, and Orval Faubus. In the case of all of these individuals, certain politicians and media outlets have buried the fact that they were Democrats and even mislabeled them as Republicans.
Blatant untruths about public figures can be readily exposed, but accusations of racism towards millions of everyday people who live in the South are another story. There is no shortage of polling data to address how people feel about racial issues, but very few of these polls measure racism.
For instance, the editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress misuses a poll question about race and violence to pin the “racist” label on people who think that blacks are more violent than whites. Such poll questions don’t measure racism but perceptions of crime. In fact, black people in the U.S. are about seven times more likely than white people to commit murder. Recognizing this reality does not make one a racist.
Similarly, when a black Harvard professor and a white University of Chicago professor write that “blacks systematically score worse than whites” on “tests of intelligence,” they are not being racist. They are pointing out a serious problem likely caused by “environmental factors” that they want to solve.
In a 2015 draft paper, Princeton professor Ilyana Kuziemko and Yale professor Ebonya Washington took a unique approach to the issue of measuring racism among Southern whites. They focused on polling data from a question that Gallup has been asking Americans since 1958: “If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be black, would you vote for him?”
These Ivy League professors acquired this data and ran it through several equations along with other data showing a 20 percentage-point drop in support for Democrats among Southern whites between 1958 and 2000. Based on their methodology, they concluded that 75% of this decline in support for Democrats was due to the racist attitudes of Southern whites.
Amid concerns about the way the study was conducted, Just Facts requested the raw data from the professors, and they did not reply. Just Facts was able to obtain the start and endpoints of this Gallup data from another source, and it shows that between 1958 and 1999, the portion of white Southerners willing to vote for a black president increased from 8% to 95%.
As explained by Gallup, 95% is “essentially universal willingness to state to an interviewer that the race of a candidate for president would make no difference.” In fact, the portion of non-white voters willing to vote for a black president are essentially the same—92% in 1999, 98% in 2012, and 93% in 2015. These figures are all within the polls’ margins of error.
In other words, Southern whites abandoned the Democratic Party as Southern whites became virtually non-racist according to this key measure. This fact is in direct conflict with those who accuse Southern whites of racism for leaving the Democratic Party.
Some of the many factors that may have actually played a role in Democratic Party losses in the South over past decades include but are not limited to:
- growing prosperity in the South. Middle- and upper-income voters are more likely than low-income voters to vote for Republicans, and as documented in a 2006 book published by Harvard University Press, between 1940 and 1980, the average per-capita income in the South rose from 53% of the U.S. non-Southern average to 85% of this average.
- the Democratic Party’s opposition to gun rights. The South has the highest gun ownership rate of any region in the nation, and Democrat appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court have consistently ruled that U.S. citizens don’t have an individual right to bear arms.
- the Democratic Party’s support for abortion and government funding of abortion at all stages of development and for effectively any reason. The South has the highest rate of evangelical Christians in the country, and evangelical Christians are more opposed to abortion that any other segment of society.
Whatever the causes may be, claims that broadly paint modern white Southerners as racists are based on half-truths and outright falsehoods. The facts show just the opposite, and those who spread these false accusations are slandering millions of Americans who live in the South.
The Democrats of yesterday were like the Republicans of today. I live in the deep South. I know of no one who is NOT racist. Your article is absurd beyond any degree of intelligence.
Your point is?? Regardless of what party did what 50 years ago is irrelevant to what is going on today! Racism is more overt than it was 10 years ago. Since racism is institutional and only people in power can be considered racist…the others can be prejudiced but not racist. Go back and check that fact!.
What party did what 50 years ago? We’re talking about established patterns over 100 years. Democrats are STILL the racists, they’re just more “equal opportunity” with their hatred and disdain. Electing a token to pretend that you’re no longer racist is even worse.
that’s not true. Only people in power can be considered racist??? where on earth did you get that from? So the KKK and the Nazis aren’t racist. They’re simply prejudiced. Is that what you’re saying? Where did you come up with this?
I grew up in Mississippi and have never lived further north than Jackson. Unless you’re talking about yourself and your hooded family and friends, you’re full of it.
Herb, I too have lived in the South — specifically, Virginia, rural Georgia, and rural Kentucky. Yet my experience is virtually the exact opposite of yours — as I knew of no one who WAS racist. Not one.
So, perhaps it’s time to consider a move … or simply to reconsider your assumptions.
I live in the south too and the only time I come in contact with racism is with the blacks. The reasons for this is the lack of education and the brainwashing by the family who hate whites. If you want to change racism you have to start at the root of the problem and that’s the deep seated hate the blacks have for the whites. None of these blacks are slaves or ever were slaves and never picked a bud of cotton in their lives. It’s passed down from generation to generation. Yet I know other blacks who do not hate whites and if you look at the family and the educational level it tells you why.
Herb, I’ve lived in both parts of the country, and racism is universal, it’s everywhere, NORTH as well as South.
I simply found it more vocalized and out in the open down south.
I’m not sure where in the Deep South you live, but you paint with a pretty broad brush. Racism is going to exist, it always has, but not everyone is a racist in the south.
No. Not everyone. But I lived in the Heart of Dixie for 10 years and their conservatism is everywhere. And that Conservatism sees no problem with racism.
I don’t know where you live, but I’d move immediately, change my name, and look for a bunch of new friends. I have lived in several southern places, visited all but 9 states in the USA, as well as 10 other countries. My observation about racists is that racists comprise about 5% of the US population. Places with the least racial and cultural diversity have a higher proporation of open racists. Outside the USA, cultural isolation is the rule rather than otherwise.
I’ve also watched Democrats and Republicans for 40 years down here. I’ll tell you straight. Democrats’ attitudes have not moved an inch. When the Voting Rights Acts were passed, they just figured out how to buy poor peoples’ votes.
My friends who are willing to discuss the matter observe that racists up north tend to be sneaky and mean, while the southern variety tends to be loud about it. It’s easier to avoid the ones in the south.
He undermined the credibility of his fact check site. He’s totally misleading on this issue. It’s all about the ideology. Not the party. The party doesn’t dictate the ideology. They ideology is what dictates the party. Conservatism is what has driven the south forever. When they were Dems, they were conservative. Today they’re Republicans and they’re still Conservatives. There is nothing liberal about the KKK. the Dems are Liberals today. It’s the Repubs that have taken on the Conservatism that did its worst in the south before and is not much better today. The legacy of Jim Crow and segregation and slavery and lynchings are all products of conservatism. blaming the party is like blaming the TV for showing a program you don’t like. You can change the channel. The TV just does what you tell it to do. Just like a political party.
GIf un righs and evangelical Christianity support is prevalent in the south, then not sure how that can sit together with view that Southern whites support hiring ‘on merit’. Supporting both gun rights and evangelical Chirstanity seems to be possibly associated with low intelligence and possibly somewhat removed from ‘merit’. The consistency is off.
Gun control in America literally was born when following the Civil War, Democrats denied blacks the right to own firearms; that way they could lynch them at will. The NRA, which was formed by officers of the Union Army, helped right that travesty of injustice and helped arm and train former slaves so that they could protect themselves. Christ himself commanded his apostles to arm themselves. The ability to effectively defend one’s life and the lives of others against murderous thugs is a solid biblical principle. Who is lacking in intelligence, or most accurately, the facts? Usually it’s the people who go around insulting others who disagree with them.
If Gun rights* …
From the few comments seems like a few Dems got their feelings hurt by the truth.
I have followed just facts for a long time and have found it to be the most unbiased fact checking site out there. In fact my college professors even allowed us to use this site for sources. So I would have to say to those who argue with them to check their facts! Maybe some of you need to go check your facts! I’m so tired of all this hate and anger going on. I know many people who live in the South, yes family who are wrongly accused of being racist and do not have a racist bone in their body. And as far as what happened 50 years ago it makes a big difference because our children are being taught a lie! I don’t know about you but I want my children and the next generation to be taught the truth, no matter what or how bad history was. I don’t want our children being taught a lie! So while it may not matter to some of you it matters a great deal to me and my family. I was raised to respect authority and my elders, to be honest and I want my children to be the same. No one is perfect, I’m not claiming to be, but I can be better than than those who are out there spreading hate and lies.
Scientists claim this universe and all its contents, including all human beings, came from a BLACK hole. An individual human being’s skin coloration is a gene adaptation which was intended to protect him from overexposure to the sun and other dangerous radiation. Perhaps, racial bias against the black or dark pigmentation can be traced to our instinctive fear of Darkness or the bottomless abyss were Lucifer was supposedly chained for a thousand years.
Lucifer hasn’t been chained yet will be when Jesus returns.
What is racism? Let’s think about this. We all have experienced times when someone has made a judgment about us based on their first impressions about us… they connect our appearance with other people they have known who have looked similar to us. Someone who looks very beautiful and dresses very nice may be initially judged to be conceited or proud. But as you get to know someone, your impressions of them may change based on the way they behave over time. This is a natural response of human beings. Our initial response to people who look a certain way, influences our expectations about how they may think & act. We ALL do this!!! A persons skin color and ethnicity is one factor which influences our response to them. Being willing to spend the time getting to know people is the only way to find out what an individual is really like. We all have biases based on past experiences, loudly expressed family opinion, or what we have seen in the media. Racism becomes a problem when we refuse to get to know the individual and appreciate them for who they are and come to understand how we are alike and different. The effort to do this will help us get along, even if we don’t agree. We need to be aware that we can be wrong about some conclusions that were made too quickly.
Racism isn’t just the N word. That sucks but it’s giving complete benefit of the doubt to one group while offering total skepticism of another.
Mississippi has had a larger number of black citizens elected to public office in our state than any other state in the country for over 40 years, yet we have always had a larger white population. That one point quite convincingly debunks the childish and hazy claims of widespread white racism, at least as it pertains to Mississippi.
In this article “Smearing the South With False Charges of Racism” By James D. Agresti, Mr Agresti works very hard to sell a completely misleading set of facts that attribute a lot of very ugly things to a party rather than the ideology that drives the party.
I’ve seen this argument so often in the past, but I really thought that a person that is the president and founder of a fact checking publisher would be more honest then he’s showing here.
For example look at what he cites as proof of his claims:
Democrats repeatedly supported the Ku Klux Klan, while Republicans fought the Klan both legislatively and physically. ( The KKK is a conservative organization. They participated in the Unite the Right torch bearing march on Charlottsville. There are no liberals in the KKK. They embrace their racism and endorsed Trump)
Republicans passed and enforced a litany of civil rights laws over the objections of Democrats. ( All the Dems that opposed civil rights were conservatives from the south. )
Democrats enacted laws that effectively banned most black people from voting in the South. ( Jim Crow laws were a conservative idea. Not liberal. Conservative Dems at that time. But conservative nontheless)
Democrats blocked Republicans from passing federal anti-lynching laws, as more than 1,200 African Americans were lynched. (Again the only people blocking anti-lynching laws were conservatives.)
Democratic President Woodrow Wilson forced white and black federal employees into different cafeterias, bathrooms, and work areas, while he wantonly fired and demoted black federal workers who had been hired and promoted under Republican presidents. (Wilson was a racist from Virginia who famously showed the Birth of a Nation, the silent film depicting the heroic KKK after reconstruction)
Democrats passed “New Deal” laws with provisions that discriminated against minorities, some of which Republicans later revised to forbid racial bias.
Democrats in certain states explicitly banned black people from participating in their primary elections. ( Jim Crow laws coming from conservatives in the South)
80% of Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as compared to 65% of Democrats. ( In the 64 election, Republican Barry Goldwater who opposed Civil Rights, won his home state of Arizona plus Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. All former Confederate states that fought a war to preserve the institution of slavery.
What Mr. Agresti fails to recognize is that it’s not about the Party’s It’s never been about the Party’s. The very fact that the parties changed their positions, and the Republicans now own the south proves the fact that the South is now and always has been Conservative. It’s the ideology of conservatism that hasn’t is responsible for those things that Agresti points to. the Democrats adopted Liberalism and civil rights in their platform. That alienated Southern Dixicrats who did eventually leave the Democratic Party. Thurmond left, and slowly others left. When Reagan campaigned in Mississippi at the very location where 3 civil rights workers were murdered and declared he believed in States Rights, he won over the conservative Dems and they voted for the republican Reagan who spoke their language of segregation and legitimized their racist attitudes.
Parties don’t come to us with a priori ideologies or philosophies. They’re blank slates until an ideology or philosophy steers that vehicle as he platform for their ideas. Conservatives have always ruled the south and they are the people that formed the KKK and gave us Jim Crow. The fact that they were Democrats doesn’t change the fact of their ideology. They were conservatives then, and they still are today. They changed parties. Today they’re Republicans, but they have never changed their ideology. And it’s the ideology that gave us slavery, the Civil War, lynchings , Jim Crow, racism, segregation…all of it. The party simply did what the ideology told it to do. Today the Repubs don’t even have a platform. The platform is whatever Trump says it is.
Your entire argument is based on false assumption that “the parties changed their positions.” This was already debunked in the article. Read it carefully. I’m not going to spoon feed it to you.
Your article has just been debunked. Parties don’t come to us with pre-determined ideologies. There is no such thing as a Democratic philosophy or Republican ideology. Those things don’t exist. What you’re doing is targeting a party and ignoring the ideology that drove the party. The parties did in fact change their positions because the philosophy or ideology that dominated those parties took the parties in different directions than previously held. The Dems used to be conservative and they most certainly were in the most conservative section of the country – the South. Today Dems are seen as liberals. Lincoln, the Republican was a liberal by today’s standards and opposing slavery and freeing the slaves was a liberal action that the conservative Dems in the South couldn’t accept. Once the Dems embraced Civil Rights as a party the DixiCrats were left without a party. They were marginalized within the party. They voted for the Republican Goldwater who also opposed Civil Rights. The Southern Strategy began with Nixon but hit its stride under Reagan.
I don’t know how old you are Mr. Agresti but I doubt that you’re my age. I was in high school in 64 and I watched what happened firsthand. The Dems became the Liberal party and the Repubs became the Conservatives starting with Goldwater who made Conservatism intellectually acceptable after Russell Kirks book the Conservative mind came out in 1953.
There used to be Liberal Republicans back then. Rockefeller, Scranton, Percy, Dirkson. That all changed and today you can’t find any liberal Republicans. Conservatism was what drove the Dems in the South and it does the same with the Repubs today. It’s never been about the parties. It’s always been about the ideas the shape the party platform. They don’t have platforms of their own that come to us wrapped in a bow. Whatever ideology dominates the party is the ideology that shapes it’s attitudes toward race and every other cultural issue you can think of including abortion and vaccinations and education. All of it is ideologically driven. Parties are nothing but parked cars waiting for somebody to start them up and point them in a direction. I would think you’d know that much, because your position undermines your own site.
Of course, the parties changed their positions because those people that lead the parties changed their positions or they lost leadership roles to a more liberal faction among them. Conservatives no longer ruled the Democrats. Liberals did and they embraced the very thing that conservatives rejected;’ Civil Rights. Which is exactly why the conservative dems in the South switched to the GOP. For the GOP racism and segregation was not a deal breaker. Liberal Republicans lost ground to the conservatives and what you see today is the result. You can’t find a liberal Republican today. You could easily find them in 1964. Just as easily is finding conservative Dems. The liberal Repubs along with the liberal Dems passed Civil Rights. Conservatives rejected Civil Rights. Goldwater won over the DixiCrats in the South with his opposition to Civil Rights. And please don’t tell me that racism and civil rights aren’t linked because that would be ridiculous. Every attempt to block civil rights was coming from Conservatives. Every attempt to pass anti-lynching laws was opposed by conservatives. Every attempt to end Jim Crow was opposed by Conservatives. You know this is true. None of that was opposed by Liberals. So trying to feed people the idea that the parties come to us with ideologies of their own all neatly wrapped in a bow is simply a lie. It’s not true, and your site is about facts, is it not?
Tell you what, if you can find any University worldwide, that offers a philosophy course, and you can find a philosophy or ideology called Democrat or Republican, I will concede that I’m totally wrong and I’ll leave and not darken your doors any longer. Go ahead. Show me something called Democrat in any philosophy course at a recognized University or College. Or Republican. I’m interested in knowing what Democrat Philosophy looks like. Or Republican for that matter.
I can save you time. You won’t find that. What you will find is that Conservatism as a movement goes back to Edmund Burke. He’s considered the grandfather of modern Conservatism. As for liberalism, you’ll find that began with the Enlightenment period in Europe with Hobbes and Locke, and Kant. Neither one is Republican or Democrat.
You’ll also find if you look, that Jeremy Bentham created Utilitarianism and consequential moral reasoning which is predominant among Republicans today. You’ll also find that the Conservative Republican tends to reason inductively. The Liberal Democrat leans toward deductive reasoning. Which stands to reason since they think differently.
But by all means find a university that offers a philosophy course that presents Democrat as a philosophical stance. Let me know if you find it.
I haven’t been spoon fed for a very long time. But I do tend to spit out lies and bs. And that’s exactly what I’m doing right here, right now.
The definition of lying by omission goes something like the following: leaving out important, relevant facts in conversation in order to foster a misconception.
That’s exactly what you’re doing here. Fostering a misconception. You’re undermining the credibility of your own site which is supposed to reveal “justfacts”.
This is a breakdown of the votes on the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Note that “Southern”, as used here, refers to members of Congress from the eleven states that had 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 House of Representatives:
Northern: 281–32 (90–10%) Liberal Dems 90% yay
Southern: 8–94 (8–92%) Conservative Dems 92% nay
Northern: 72–6 (92–8%) Liberal Dems
Southern: 1–21 (5–95%) – Ralph Yarborough of Texas was the only Southerner to vote in favor in the Senate. All Southern Dem Senators voted no. Conservative Dems
By party and region
The House of Representatives:
Southern Democrats: 8–83 (9–91%) – four Representatives from Texas (Jack Brooks, Albert Thomas, J. J. Pickle, and Henry González), two from Tennessee (Richard Fulton and Ross Bass), Claude Pepper of Florida and Charles L. Weltner of Georgia voted in favor
Southern Republicans: 0–11 (0–100%)
Northern Democrats: 145–8 (95–5%)
Northern Republicans: 136–24 (85–15%)
Note that four Representatives voted Present while 13 did not vote.
Southern Democrats: 1–20 (5–95%) – only Ralph Yarborough of Texas voted in favor
Southern Republicans: 0–1 (0–100%) – John Tower of Texas, the only Southern Republican at the time, voted against
Northern Democrats: 45–1 (98–2%) – only Robert Byrd of West Virginia voted against
Northern Republicans: 27–5 (84–16%) – Norris Cotton (NH), Barry Goldwater (AZ), Bourke Hickenlooper (IA), Edwin Mecham (NM), and Milward Simpson (WY) voted against
As you can plainly see, in both Houses of Congress; Southern Dems voted against the CRA in large majorities. They were all conservatives.
Northern Dems voted overwhelmingly for the CRA. They were all Liberals