Urban Legend: Goldwater Against Civil Rights

Urban Legends article-Goldwater

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.[1] 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.”[2]

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.”[3]

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.[4] Goldwater was, also, a member of the NAACP and the Urban League.[5]

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…”[6]. And, he would continued to holdfast 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.

[1] http://crdl.usg.edu/events/civil_rights_act_1957/?Welcome . Also see http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=482

[2] http://www.congresslink.org/print_basics_histmats_civilrights64text.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barry_Goldwater

[4] Jonathan Bean, Race and Liberty in America (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009), p. 226.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid. Also see Barry Goldwater, “Civil Rights,” Congressional Record, June 18, 1964, 14318-19.

Default Comments (16)

16 thoughts on “Urban Legend: Goldwater Against Civil Rights

  1. Wayne Embry says:

    Thanks for info.

  2. Greg says:

    At the end of the day, Goldwater defended the right to segregate. If he had won, segregation would’ve been in place, it’s cute how you try to make historical revisionism, but that’s actually what would’ve happened. Both southern democrats and republicans opposed, after the act passed under a democratic president, and the nominee for the republicans was a pro-segregationists, the southerners switched over to republicans.

    1. Eric M. Wallace, PhD Eric M. Wallace, PhD says:

      No. He felt that it was not the federal governments job to tell local businesses whom they had to sell too. He wanted to leave that to the States. This is an argument about the role of the federal government not about whether someone has the right to discriminate. He showed his opposition to racial discriminate by supporting the other pieces of legislation proffered by Eisenhower in 1957 and 1960. He was a member of the Arizona NAACP.

      1. Jasmine says:

        Good article- it is important to note that Barry was simply trying to defend states’ rights. However, I do not think it did him, or the Republican party, any service by trying to point out that the act was unconstitutional. It would have been better to compromise on this in order to demonstrate support for an equal America.
        On a side note, I believe Johnson voted for the 1957 Act- you said in this article he voted against both 1957 and 1960. See link: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/votes/85-1957/s75

        1. Eric M. Wallace, PhD Eric M. Wallace, PhD says:

          You are correct about Johnson. Thanks for the information. I stand corrected. Kennedy and Johnson Supported the 1957 bill.

          1. Randal Ernst says:

  3. Greg says:

    You might say, oh ‘he personally opposed segregation’. That’s like someone saying he’s against slavery, but that he also refuses to federally ban it, and thus allows various states to continue holding slaves…..

    1. Eric M. Wallace, PhD Eric M. Wallace, PhD says:

      That’s a dumb argument. Both have to do with the power of the federal government to act. Lincoln didn’t have the authority to free the slaves. After the war with Britain individual Northern states freed their slaves. The emancipation proclamation only freed slaves in states that had been taken over by the North. The Federal government is limit by the tenth amendment to the constitution…” The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

      Goldwater felt the 1964 Civil Right Act was unconstitutional. Lincoln was able to free the slave because the South considered Slaves as their property and once capture became the property of the North and could therefore be set free. This is basically the difference between conservatives and liberals. Conservatives want to limit the arm of the feds while Liberals want to extend the reach of the feds.

      1. Frank says:

        People are OK with the fed dictating to the states until the fed dictates something those people don’t like. Then they understand how federal overreach creates tyranny.

  4. Maddie Ross says:

    And ever since, the GOP has systematically worked to disenfranchise people of color, the poor, and the elderly. And let’s not even start on their horrific civil rights record concerning LGBT and Muslim citizens. This is no longer the party of Lincoln, but the party of Strom Thurmond, David Duke, Donald Trump, and the KKK.

    1. Eric M. Wallace, PhD Eric M. Wallace, PhD says:

      Maddie your comments are not based on fact but fiction. The Democrat party is the party of slavery, KKK, Strom Thurmond’s early days, Woodrow Wilson, the Dixiecrats, Jim Crow, Robert Byrd and segregation. They are now the party of urban blight, gang violence, welfare, unemployment, abortion, and failing schools. The GOP has championed civil rights since its inception and now champions school choice, welfare reform, immigration reform, tax reform and real healthcare reform. And when it comes to LGBT community they don’t need special rights for their sexual behavior. They have rights because they are human beings.

      1. Snow says:

        As a student of history like yourself surely knows, what a party stands for changes over time and by region. The Democrats in 1900 could be anything from a party for Catholics & non-Anglo immigrants (in the North), a party for Populist-leaning farmers (in the West), and the party of racist Dixiecrats seeking to overturn Reconstruction (in the South).

        It would be better to look at ideologies, and here the answer is *quite* plain. The Dixiecrats themselves blamed all the Civil Rights “troubles” of the 60s on “white liberals” stirring up Negros and disrupting a happy, orderly society where everyone knew their place. When the (white) South transitioned from Democratic-favoring to Republican-favoring, the politicians openly said it was because the Republicans represented conservatism now, while the Democrats liberalism. Again, don’t take my word for it, take the rhetoric used at the time.

        The South has been remarkably consistent: “liberals” have favored civil rights, “conservatives” have not. In 1900, Southern Republicans were “liberal”, Southern Democrats were “conservative.” In 1940, partially thanks to the influence of FDR, everybody in the South was a Democrat and the primaries were between liberals, moderates, and conservatives. By 1980, the conservatives were Republicans and the liberals were Democrats, thanks to Goldwater, Nixon, & Reagan.

        Is it any surprise that people who care about basic, fundamental civil rights are going to vote for the liberal candidates, no matter what party they belong to?

        1. Eric M. Wallace, PhD Eric M. Wallace, PhD says:

          Snow, If you are a student of history you need to do some better research. Your understanding of “Liberals” vs “conservatives” will not fly. Southern Democrats were liberal in regards to federal spending. They were for higher taxes. Conservatives were the ones who today argue for limited government. You can’t be a conservative or classical liberal and have Jim crow laws. Classical liberal or today’s conservatives have always been for less government. Progressives or today’s liberals have always been for more government. Conservatives today are what used to be called “classical liberals”. Slavery and Jim crow are at cross purposes with modern conservative ideology and if you did your homework or read my article a little closer you’d know this.

          Understand that the South changed over time and had to abandon their segregationist ways. Racist died, some moved and others retired from politics. The South was not stagnant. New people have moved to the South. The Economics of the South have changed.

          Reagan and Goldwater were not racist. And Nixon was no more racist than LBJ. They had a political agenda. LBJ help past Civil rights legislation that Nixon and Eisenhower had already set in motion. Nixon brought us affirmative action. He supported the civil rights acts of 1957, 1960, 1964, and 1968. (see Article by Buchanan). Winning the South does not mean you are racist. Carter and Bill Clinton and Obama won the South. Reagan won every state against accept Minnesota against Mondale. Does that mean all the states were racist? Or could it be that the electorate was voting based on other ideas? (see the electoral map).

          The standard argument to prove a candidates policies are racist thus does not hold up. The South has more issues than race. Economics, government control, foreign policy, and a host of other issues are on the minds of more people than race relations. Your argument is too simplistic and naive. Democrats have a reason to restate the simple version of the “Southern strategy” and the GOP “disregard of civil rights”. It’s a great tool to keep Black folks voting Democrat. It doesn’t have to be true because if you repeat a lie often enough people begin to believe it, even if they are so called “students of history.” If you really want to be a student of history do your home work. Go to the original sources. Don’t rely on what I say or anyone else. Go to the congressional voting records. Read what people wrote not what other wrote about them. Get a good definition of conservatism and liberalism. Then you can recognize them when you see them. You can also recognize when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Then back up your statements. Nothing is true because we say it is. It true because your can prove it. You have data to back it up. Read the what Goldwater wrote. Look at the presidential election maps. Is what others are saying based on the data you see? Does George W. win the South because he is racist or because he’s an evangelical Christian? Or could it be his economic message. He solidly beats Kerry in 2004.

          Last word. The only people playing race politics are the Democrats. They keep reaping the lie that they are for Black people and the GOP is for white people. SO far it has been effective but still untrue.

  5. Stuart Birch says:

    Thanks Eric. Good article.

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