One of the most prominently held urban legends of our time is that Senator Barry Goldwater, the GOP candidate for president in 1964, was against civil rights because he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This vote of Goldwater marked the start of when “the GOP began to go against civil rights” according to CNN’s Roland Martin’s version of the legend.
The truth is, the GOP has always been in favor of civil rights. From the creation of the party, which opposed slavery; to this present day, you cannot find a single plank on the GOP platform that indicates anything otherwise. In fact, it was Republican President Eisenhower who proffered the first civil rights act of 1957, which was watered down by White Southern Democrats [see Eisenhower on Civil rights].
This bill, however, was responsible for jump-starting the process of civil rights legislation with protection for voting rights; establishing the Civil Rights Division in the Justice department; and among other things, establishing a six member Civil Rights commission. In addition, a second Civil Rights bill was passed in 1960. Senator Goldwater supported both bills.
The problem arises in 1964. The new Civil Rights bill championed by President Johnson, who has now ironically had an epiphany about Civil Rights, comes to the Senate. The Southern Democrats oppose the bill as they had opposed similar legislation along with Senator Johnson. Now as president, Johnson realizes the bill will not pass the Senate without Republican help so he approaches Everett Dirksen. Dirksen garners Republican support, and the bill passes.
Of note, “The Republican Party was not so badly split as the Democrats by the civil rights issue. Only one Republican senator participated in the filibuster against the bill. In fact, since 1933, Republicans had a more positive record on civil rights than the Democrats. In the twenty-six major civil rights votes since 1933, a majority of Democrats opposed civil rights legislation in over 80 % of the votes. By contrast, the Republican majority favored civil rights in over 96 % of the votes.”
In the 1964 civil rights act Republicans in the house voted 138 for and 34 against; Democrats voted 152 for and 96 against. In the Senate, the Republicans voted 27 for and 6 against; the Democrats voted 46 for and 21 against. Clearly, from these numbers there was no apparent anti-Civil Rights movement in the GOP as Roland Martin, and others, suggest.
As a matter of fact, as one of the six voting against the 1964 Civil rights act, Senator Goldwater, on principle, disagreed with the idea of Federal government intervention regarding this matter. “His stance was based on his view that the act was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and, second, that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do business, or not, with whomever they chose.”
More specifically, Goldwater had problems with title II and title VII of the 1964 bill. He felt that constitutionally the federal government had no legal right to interfere in who people hired, fired; or to whom they sold their products, goods and services. He felt that “power” laid in the various states, and with the people. He was a strong advocate of the tenth amendment. Goldwater’s constitutional stance did not mean he agreed with the segregation and racial discrimination practiced in the South. To the contrary, he fought against these kinds of racial divides in his own state of Arizona. He supported the integration of the Arizona National guard and Phoenix public schools. Goldwater was, also, a member of the NAACP and the Urban League.
His personal feelings about discrimination are enshrined in the congressional record where he states, “I am unalterably opposed to discrimination or segregation on the basis of race, color, or creed or on any other basis; not only my words, but more importantly my actions through years have repeatedly demonstrated the sincerity of my feeling in this regard…”. And, he would continue to hold fast to his strongly felt convictions that constitutionally the federal government was limited in what it could do, believing that the amoral actions of those perpetuating discrimination and segregation would have to be judged by those in that community. Eventually, the states government and local communities would come to pressure people to change their minds. Goldwater’s view was that the civil disobedience by private citizens against those business establishments was more preferable than intervention by the feds. He, optimistically, believed that racial intolerance would soon buckle under the economic and societal pressure.
Unfortunately, Goldwater’s principled stand on this issue allowed the Democrats to brand Republicans, for the first time in their long history of fighting for civil rights, as racially insensitive at best, and racist at worst. Martin is correct in this regard that the Black vote went to the Democrats, and Johnson gets elected. What is not mentioned, however, is that many Republicans also defected to support LBJ because of a feud between moderates and conservatives in the GOP. Or, that from this time forward Democrats would use government largess to win the votes of the minority community. LBJ would call for a “War on Poverty” and challenge Americans to build a “Great Society.” Hence, government became bigger and bigger thus exacerbating the difference between those who advocated smaller government and lower taxes from those who believed government could solve many of society’s ills through government programs (spending).
Many would argue that the advent of the Great Society initiates the decline of the Black family. What Blacks gained from Civil Rights legislation and government largess, they lost in individual liberty and fidelity. They became more dependent on government programs; and less dependent on their own ability to improve themselves by the work of their own hands, and the sweat of their brow. If you read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative you’ll see that he understood this dynamic [see my article Conservatism vs The Borg (liberalism)].
Consequently, an Urban Legend begins depicting the GOP, despite its 100 years of civil rights history prior to Goldwater and Goldwater’s own support for civil rights, as racist or racially insensitive because a man stood on principle. I see no ‘horrible history’ here, unless you say that the Civil Rights leaders overreached with good intentions, which eventually lead to the maladies and pathologies that plague our community today.
In articles to come, we will address other legends that Roland Martin, and others, propagate to support the “GOP’s horrible history with Blacks.” We will tackle the Dixiecrats, the Southern Strategy, Bull Connor and other Urban Legends. Stay Tuned.
 Jonathan Bean, Race and Liberty in America (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p. 226.
 Ibid. Also see Barry Goldwater, “Civil Rights,” Congressional Record, June 18, 1964, 14318-19.