Urban Legends: The Southern Strategy

Urban Legends Southern Strategy

If one were to search the internet with the phrase “southern strategy” you would find that it has become common knowledge in the Black community as well as the main stream media that the GOP, starting with Richard Nixon, had a strategy to win southern states by appealing to the anti-civil rights sentiment of the southern whites. This strategy was used to win the affections of disaffected white racist with an appeal to “states rights.” One can find apologies from former RNC chairmen Ken Mehlman and an acknowledgement that there was a strategy that alienated Blacks by Michael Steele. As well accepted, as this version of the “Southern strategy” is I am not sure that it holds water when it is fully scrutinized.

In more recent articles I have talked about the Dixiecrat movement in 1948. The aim was to force both parties to reject their civil rights platforms. Unfortunately for the segregationist, but fortunately for the rest of us neither the GOP nor the democrats capitulated. Civil rights continued to move forward under Truman and Eisenhower. The vice president during the Eisenhower administration was Richard Nixon who helped push forward the civil rights legislation proffered by Eisenhower in 1957 and 1960.

In 1960 the Republican Party platform included a plank on civil rights with six items clearly demarcated: voting; public schools; employment; housing; public facilities and services; and legislative procedure.[1] The Republican Party as well as Presidential candidate Richard Nixon ran on a pro-civil rights agenda. There is no indication of the GOP deviating from its pro-civil rights agenda since the party’s conception. Some may argue that in 1968 civil rights is no longer demarcated in the GOP platform,[2] which would prove a turn away from Civil rights. Unfortunately, for those who hold this view the evidence is not there. The Civil rights Act is now law and so is the voting rights act. There is no need to detail what these laws now address. Republicans would focus on other issues as demarcated in their 1968 platform: crises of the cities; crime; youth; education; human development; Jobs; the poor; health etc. Within these categories they’d address discrimination but there was no longer a need to have a category specifically for civil rights.

The Democratic platform would mention many of the same issues with different rubrics and of course different ways of addressing society’s ills.[3] From here on out the major fights between the Democrats and Republicans would not be over civil rights but over the function of government in our society. Not that the role of government wasn’t always a point of departure for the political parties, it has been at the core of political debate since the writing of the constitution. However, there was no longer a question about whether there should be racial equality but what the government’s role should be in making it or helping it come to fruition and to address other issues facing the nation.

With this backdrop it is hard to imagine the GOP changing its focus from being pro-civil rights, which it had supported for almost a hundred years, to attract or even think it could attract segregationist to the party. What reason could there possibly be to jeopardize its brand? Segregationist’s were a dying political breed. The ill fated run of George Wallace as a candidate for president for the American Independence Party in 1968 ensured two things: 1) segregation was dying out never to wield political power on a national level; 2) States rights would return to the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. George Wallace wanted to rescind the Civil rights act.[4] He felt it was a misuse of Federal powers, that states had the right to self-determination even if it meant discriminating against others. Wallace misunderstood the tenth amendment to the constitution. The tenth amendment did not nullify the 14th and 15th amendments.

Therefore the “Southern Strategy” could not possibly be an attempt to attract anti-civil rights people to the GOP or “States Rights” segregationist to the party of Lincoln. George Wallace would have garnered those votes and it would have been an about-face for the GOP. Pat Buchanan, co-architect of the Nixon strategy, says that “Richard Nixon kicked off his historic comeback in 1966 with a column on the South (by this writer) that declared we would build our Republican Party on a foundation of states rights, human rights, small government and a strong national defense, and leave it to the ‘party of Maddox, Mahoney and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice.’”[5] Buchanan states that the 1968 campaign began with Nixon at 43%, Humphrey at 29% and Wallace at 22%.[6] Toward the end of the campaign Nixon and Humphrey were at 42% and Wallace was at 13%. Wallace had lost 9% of his support to Humphrey not to Nixon. In the end Nixon carried Virginia, Tennessee, Florida, North and South Carolina. Humphrey carried Texas. Wallace carried Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The strong segregationists states went with Wallace. Nixon was able to put certain southern states in play for the GOP but it was not because of appeals to racism but to new economic issues and political class rising in the south.[7]

Many would have us believe that from Nixon forward the south (which according to them is statically racist) would support the Republican agenda because the GOP as a party is racist. Again the evidence does not support the conclusion. In 1976 Jimmy Carter would sweep the southern states, including all the former dixiecrat states. In 1992 and 1996 Bill Clinton would split the southern vote with his opponents. This says more about the candidates and policies of the parties than it does about their stances on race relations.

After the trouncing of Wallace in the 1968 election racial politics was left to Black and White liberals painting the GOP as racist and rewriting the political history of the United States. They would spread urban legends to keep Blacks as a powerful voting block for the Democrat Party. This is not to say that there were never any racists in the GOP. I am sure there were and maybe still are but history has proven that segregation, slavery and Jim Crow were vestiges of the Democrat Party. Those who held to these ideals either died or changed their thinking. An example of this is that of George C. Wallace who later apologized for his stances on Civil rights. People can change for the better. Old hatreds eventually die and a new generation and ideology take their place. Racism is not relegated to the southern states, nor will it ever be totally eradicated. Racists now find themselves without a party to plead their cause and if we are lucky they never will again.

To this date every political campaign has a southern strategy, East coast strategy and a West coast strategy. There are strategies for women and men, college age voters, minorities, immigrants, businessmen and women. One cannot assume that therefore there must be some kind of ill will or intent to win the vote of certain constituents. It is the nature of politics to steal away votes from a voting block that either has never heard your message or never been asked for their support. Democrats know this and thus are afraid that Republicans will one day make in roads into the Black community and erode the 90% voting block that supports their candidates. Thus we expose the urban legends for what they are, hoping that knowledge will chase away ignorance and misinformation equipping people to make decisions based on facts not fables.

[1] Republican Party Platforms: “Republican Party Platform of 1960,” July 25, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25839.
[2] Republican Party Platforms: “Republican Party Platform of 1968,” August 5, 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25841

[3] Democratic Party Platforms: “Democratic Party Platform of 1968,” August 26, 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29604.

[4] Minor/Third Party Platforms: “American Independent Party Platform of 1968,” October 13, 1968. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=29570.

[5] Patrick J. Buchanan, “The Neocons and Nixon’s southern strategy,” Worldnet Daily, http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=30233

[6] Ibid.

[7] See “The End of Southern Exceptionalism,” Richard Johnston of the University of Pennsylvania and Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin argue that the shift in the South from Democratic to Republican was overwhelmingly a question not of race but of economic growth.

Default Comments (8)

8 thoughts on “Urban Legends: The Southern Strategy

  1. Jeremiah says:

    Mr. Wallace, your arguments are without merit, your evidence is lacking, your article defies logic and your position is contrary to historical facts. This is understandable as you are a theologian rather than a historian and you base your findings on belief rather than on facts.

    For your convenience, then, I have provided numerous reliable sources, many of which have been peer reviewed, discussing the Southern Strategy, or the Southern Switch, of southern Democrats to the Republican Party starting in the mid-1960s. This impetus for the Southern Switch came from the Civil Rights movement that resulted in the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. White southerners bemoaned that they had lost their rights, which would have been the right to oppress and abuse the largest minority in the South: black people.

    Especially poignant is the recording of Lee Atwater’s 1981 interview discussing the Southern Switch and how it was to be continued during the administration of Ronald Reagan.

    There is also a wonderful article here from Forbes discussing how white pastors in the South helped facilitate the Southern Switch starting in the mid-1960s. These pastors were pivotal to getting Richard Nixon elected in 1968 and securing Republican votes for Reagan in the 1980 election cycle.

    There are several other sources included here for you to review, Mr. Wallace, so you can educate yourself on the history of politics in the southern states and how they affect the Republican Party today. I suggest you do so before you write another article that will only embarrass you.

    Also, your citations are incorrect. Please review Chicago Manual of Style guidelines.



    Anderson, Elizabeth and Jeffrey Jones. “George Wallace and electoral opposition to civil rights, 1968.” University of Michigan. Accessed April 14, 2019. http://umich.edu/~lawrace/votetour10.htm.

    “Candace Owens Lies About Southern Strategy, Everything.” The Majority Report w/Sam Seder. April 13, 2019. Accessed April 14, 2019.

    “Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition.” Purdue Online Writing Lab. Accessed April 14, 2019.

    Eskew, Glenn T. “George C. Wallace (1963-67, 1971-79, 1983-87).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. Accessed on April 14, 2019. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1676.

    Jones, Robert P. “How Trump Remixed the Republican ‘Southern Strategy’.” August 14, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/how-trump-remixed-the-republican-southern-strategy/495719/

    Perlstein, Rick. “Exclusive: Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy.” The Nation. November 13, 2012. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://www.thenation.com/article/exclusive-lee-atwaters-infamous-1981-interview-southern-strategy/.

    Sweeney, James R. “Southern Strategies.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 106, no. 2 (1998); 165 – 200. Old Dominion University Digital Commons. Accessed April 14, 2019. https://digitalcommons.odu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&%20httpsredir=1&article=1001&context=history_fac_pubs.

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

      First of all your comments are here only because I allow for differences of opinion. However, I don’t appreciate the rudeness in your writing. You can disagree without being rude.

      1. I could care less if you don’t like the way I cited my sources. They are legit sources.
      2. In this argument, peer review means nothing since most of Academia is in the pocket of the left. They have a stake in reciting the talking point of the Democrats.
      3. The racist white vote went to Wallace, not Nixon. Buchanan, who claims to be the architect of the Southern Strategy makes that clear. Nixon supported all the Civil rights legislation under Eisenhower. https://www.nixonfoundation.org/2017/08/nixons-record-civil-rights-2/
      4. Please give me a list of Democrats who switched to the Republican party after you give me the list of Dixiecrats. Then let’s compare the two.
      5. Lee Atwater is right that racial politics dies after the Civil rights act of 1964 and the voting rights act of 1965. It’s a done deal. Other issues are more important like defense, taxes, which Reagan ran on, and had been running on.
      6. Atwater’s mention of the “n” word is what the situation in the democrat controlled south was like in the past. But it was the Democrat party using such language like LBJ who said: “I’ll have those n*ggers voting Democratic for 200 years.” https://www.intellectualtakeout.org/blog/did-lbj-say-ill-have-those-nggers-voting-democratic-200-years
      7. One or two people do not represent the GOP. There are various factions within the party that agree and disagree. Atwater and Phillips don’t represent the party as a whole. But look at how people voted in those elections. Reagan destroys Mondale in 1984. He wins every state but Minnesota. Did everyone become a racist in the Northern states too? DId they not get the memo that Reagan was a racist? Or were there other issues that people were concerned about, in the North and South?
      8. To continue to use the race card against the GOP is ludicrous and disingenuous. Racial politics only exists in the rhetoric of the Democrat party to keep blacks voting for liberal progressives. The South has moved on to other issues that effect there everyday lives. It’s time you do too.

      9> Here is LBJ https://youtu.be/r1rIDmDWSms

      1. Harley Garrett says:

        On point number 6, while LBJ certainly said that word, I do not believe that there is any historical accuracy in him saying that quote, beyond a single flight attendant’s personal claim 30 years after the fact.
        Although its true that few democrats outside of Thurmond in the south switched political affiliations, the voters certainly did, as is easily decipherable when looking at a political map of the 1960s versus what we have today.
        The entire point of switching from blatant racism, saying the n word repeatedly as Atwater explains, is to provide plausible deniability, so that you can appeal to the racists who believe that your policies will disproportionately affect those who they hate, alongside others who aren’t racist.
        While its true that one or two do not represent the entirety of the GOP, they can certainly change the upper workings. To say that one individual can not totally change the way that a single party works is disingenuous at best, contemporary politics disprove that. When you are a political consultant and strategist for a political party, you have more than a little say in how that party operates.

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

          I think you have missed the point entirely. Racism as a plank in a platform ceased to exist except in the minds of people who are obsessed with it–Democrats. You have to explain why Reagan won every state but one in 1984 and Nixon won every state but Massachusetts. Did everyone become racist? NO. There were other issues on people’s minds in these and other races from the economy to the Vietnam War. Once the Dixiecrat experiment failed (because people didn’t vote based on race relations but on other issues that effected them more personally) you couldn’t win on race issues except to always claim the GOP was full of racist. Otherwise, you’ll have difficulty explaining the shifts in our history from Republican to Democrat then Back to Republican. See the maps: https://www.270towin.com/historical-presidential-elections/

          If the Southern Strategy was to appeal to racist why does the whole nation vote for Nixon in 1972? Did they just ignore the racism in his campaign? Were they too dumb to see the racism? Did only the South hear the dog whistles? No war and foreign policy were major issues, not race. Southerners had sons in the military like everyone else and wanted a strong leader to conduct the war and bring it to an end. Period. We need to stop giving race so much power assuming it colors everything. Self-interest colors everything. My paycheck, cost of housing, going to war, taxes, and a host of other things affect how people vote. Again, look at the election maps then try to remember what the issues were in those days. The same is true today. The GOP is for smaller government, lower taxes, school choice, traditional family, pro-life there is nothing racial about any of these issues. The main difference is how we see the function of government.

        2. Destiny says:

          Disparities are causative of population size. If the white and black populations were equal, then the disproportions wouldnt exist. However, equal populations doesn’t mean that other factors like crime and abortion rates would decrease. In fact, it stands to reason that those rates would inevitably increase with population growth. Therefore, in order to remove the disparity, through equalizing the racial populations, it might be prudent to stop killing each other and the unborn

  2. Douglas Dunklin says:

    Dr. Wallace – excellent article and even better dialogue in the remarks. Well done!

  3. Gregoire Chimot says:

    Great job, the informations I was looking for. G CHIMOT (France)

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