Former basketball star and current Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley hasn't fouled an opponent on the basketball court in years, but lately he's fouling the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bradley claims the congressional vote on the Act led to which political party he would join. Oh, really?
On October 9, 1999 at an Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner, Bradley exclaimed: "I remember the exact moment that I became a Democrat. It was the summer of 1964; I was an intern in Washington between my junior and senior year in college. And I was in the Senate chamber the night the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed that desegregated public accommodations in America... And I became a Democrat because it was the party of justice. It was Democrats that stepped forward that evening in the Senate and cast their vote that washed away the stain of segregation in this country."
I believe that Democrats have lied about who supported the Civil Rights Act for so long that they actually believe their lies. But anytime this lie is retold, I feel compelled to debunk it. So here we go again...
The Congressional Quarterly of June 26, 1964 (p. 1323) recorded that, in the Senate, only 69% of Democrats (46 for, 21 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act as compared to 82% of Republicans (27 for, 6 against). All southern Democratic senators voted against the Act. This includes the current senator from West Virginia and former KKK member Robert C. Bryd and former Tennessee senator Al Gore, Sr. (the father of Bradley's Democratic opponent). Surely young Bradley must have flunked his internship because ostensibly he did not learn that the Act's primary opposition came from the southern Democrats' 74-day filibuster. In addition, he did not know that 21 is over three times as much as six, otherwise he would have become - according to the logic of his statement - a Republican.
In the House of Representatives, 61% of Democrats (152 for, 96 against) voted for the Civil Rights Act; 92 of the 103 southern Democrats voted against it. Among Republicans, 80% (138 for, 34 against) voted for it.
Since Bradley was interning in the Senate, why doesn't he remember the major role the Republicans played in fighting for civil rights? During the Eisenhower Administration, the Republican Party made more progress in civil rights than in the preceding 80 years. According to Congressional Quarterly, "Although the Democratic-controlled Congress watered them down, the Administration's recommendations resulted in significant and effective civil rights legislation in both 1957 and 1960 - the first civil rights statutes to be passed in more than 80 years" ("The Republican Party 1960 Civil Rights Platform," May 1964). It reported on April 5, 1963 that, " A group of eight Republican senators in March joined in introducing a series of 12 civil rights bills that would implement many of the recommendations made in the Civil Rights Commission report of 1961."
The principal measures introduced by these Republicans broadened the Civil Rights Act of 1964, making it "designed to pass unlike Democratic 'public relations' attempts" (CQ, February 15, 1963, p. 191). Republican senators overwhelmingly "chided" President John Kennedy about his "failure to act in this field (civil rights)." Republican senators criticized the Kennedy Administration's February 28, 1963 civil rights message as "falling far short" of the Civil Rights Commission's recommendations and both party platforms. "If the President will not assume the leadership in getting through Congress urgently needed civil rights measures," the Republican senators said, " then Congress must take the initiative" (CQ, April 5, 1963, p. 527).
At the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson praised the Republicans for their "overwhelming" support. Roy Wilkins, then-NAACP chairman, awarded Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights Award for his "remarkable civil rights leadership." Moreover, civil rights activist Andrew Young wrote in his book An Easy Burden that "The southern segregationists were all Democrats, and it was black Republicans... who could effectively influence the appointment of federal judges in the South" (p. 96). Young added that the best civil rights judges were Republicans appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower and that "these judges are among the many unsung heroes of the civil rights movement."
The historical facts and numbers show the Republican Party
was more for civil rights than the Democrats from "the party
of justice," as Bill Bradley called it. The Civil Rights
Act of 1964, in reality, could not have been passed without Republican
votes. It is an "injustice" for contemporary Democratic
politicians and the liberal news media to continue to not give
the Republicans credit for their civil rights triumphs. Now is
the time for Republicans to start informing black Americans of
those historical triumphs to lead them back to their "home
(R.D. Davis is a member of Project 21 and a writer and radio
talk show host in Huntsville, Alabama.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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