Republicans Led the Way on Civil Rights

The Republican Party was founded largely to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence that “All Men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” 

Republicans cannot represent who we are to the American people if we forget who we are and accept attempts to distort and change our history.  Instead of sincerely apologizing, Democrats simply lie about Republicans. 

Including the conveniently sidelined Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Grand Old Party has actually led the way on civil rights, constitutional rights, and equality before the law.  The Civil Rights Acts were important Republican accomplishments that we must not let the country forget.   

It started with the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Eisenhower endorsed civil rights legislation in his 1956 State of the Union Address.  Running on a civil rights platform, the GOP incumbent then easily defeated Democrat candidate Adlai Stevenson and increased his vote totals in the South in 1956 over the 1952 election.

In 1957, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent Congress a proposal for civil rights legislation, which he proposed in his 1957 State of the Union address, designed the bill, engineered it through Congress, and signed the first civil rights bill into law since Reconstruction.   

Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL) introduced the civil rights bill on behalf of the Eisenhower Administration and assumed leadership to move the bill through the Senate.  Republican Dirksen declared that “Since 1945 I have been introducing bills for civil rights.”

Back when Republicans actually had backbones, the Republican National Committee issued a press release on August 6, 1957, attacking then U.S. Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson (D-TX) for opposing the Republican civil rights legislation.  The RNC exposed how Democrats including LBJ as late as 1957 were fighting against the rights of African-Americans.

By this legislation, Eisenhower created the Civil Rights Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, empowered federal prosecutors to get court orders enjoining interference with the right of blacks to vote, and established the Civil Rights Commission.  The final act was weakened by Congress from Eisenhower’s draft due to lack of support from the Democrats. 

However, as the Western Illinois Historical Review explains, prior to 1957, “Southern congressmen and senators prevented any legislation from passing for decades due to their domination of powerful committees and their use of the filibuster. The 1957 act showed cracks in the system.”  Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act of 1957 was a game-changer because the Republicans opened the door to getting legislation passed, not because it was the one and only civil rights bill needed. 

Later that year, Eisenhower issued Executive Order 10730 on September 23, 1957, “Desegregation of Central High School,” calling out the National Guard to desegregate the South. The President nationalized the Arkansas National Guard and sent in National Guardsmen from the 101st Airborne Division, starting in Little Rock, Arkansas, to escort African-American students into previously whites-only segregated public schools. 

Next Republicans passed the Civil Rights Act of 1960.  Republican Eisenhower proposed measures to strengthen enforcement and the teeth of his Civil Rights Act of 1957, including providing for federal prosecution for interfering with court orders regarding school desegregation. In keeping with the consistent pattern on civil rights, 81.5% of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for Ike’s 1960 Civil Rights Act while only 59% of Democrats did.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Democrat president Lyndon B. Johnson submitted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Congress in Kennedy’s name.  However, Democrats in the U.S. Senate filibustered the 1964 legislation, led partly by U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), former West Virginia KKK “Exalted Cyclops,” as even liberal Slate Magazine admits

It took Republicans to break the filibuster. Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) bypassed the Judiciary Committee chaired by an anti-civil rights Democrat.  The filibuster lasted 57 working days and was broken when 27 Republican senators (82% of Republican senators) and 46 Democrat senators (68% of Democrat senators) voted for cloture. Without overwhelming Republican support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it would have died over a Democrat-led filibuster.

Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen was critical in delivering the Republican votes necessary to pass the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. During his sixteen years in the House of Representatives, “he had voted for anti-poll-tax and anti-lynching measures. In the Senate he had sponsored or cosponsored scores of bills dealing with civil rights.” 

Throughout the 1950s, Dirksen “introduced or cosponsored bills to create a Federal Commission on Civil Rights to study and develop programs to eliminate poll taxes and lynching, to increase federal funds to the Negro College Fund, and to establish February 12-19 as National Negro History Week. He carried the banner for the Eisenhower administrations civil rights bills and played an important role in passing civil rights legislation from 1957 through 1968.  (See Frank Mackaman, The Long, Hard Furrow: Everett Dirksen’s Part in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

Yet, historian Darren Miles opines that “Dirksen was an unlikely candidate to champion civil rights legislation,” because he was a conservative Republican, despite Dirksen’s obvious record as a fighter for civil rights.  For the 1964 bill, Dirksen, after emerging from the hospital, “went to [Republican Senate] members one by one, pleading with them, appealing to their moral sensibilities, reminding them of past favors, and warning of more civil unrest, exercising his beguiling talents to their fullest effect.”  This earned Dirksen recognition: “Time magazine noted when Dirksen appeared on the cover of the June 19, 1964 issue, ‘it is Dirksen’s bill, bearing his handiwork more than anyone else’s.’” 

On final passage, in the U.S. House of Representatives, 136 out of 171 Republicans (80%) voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while only 153 out of 244 Democrats (only 63%) voted for it.  In the U.S. Senate, 27 out of 33 Republicans (82%) voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while only 46 of 67 Democrats did (69%).  (Laughingly, the left-wing media tries to hide these votes by “controlling for region.”  Why would we “control for region” of the country?)

We are told that racists from among Southern Democrats joined the Republican Party…  Why?  Well, um….  Democrat President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  But….  Republican President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and of 1960.  And a greater percentage Republicans voted for all those civil rights bills than Democrats. So both Republican and Democrat Presidents signed civil rights legislation.  And that would make racists vote Republican…. why, exactly?

President Donald Trump should make the theme of the Republican National Convention “Fulfilling the Dream of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and King.”  Speakers should highlight each of the Black Republicans elected to Congress after the Civil War.  Trump should read the Emancipation Proclamation and Constitutional amendments.  Convention speakers should return the nation to the goals of Reconstruction and Republican civil rights efforts.

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