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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Alabama Republican Party is Founded on Racism

The Republican National Convention is ongoing in Minnesota, and that gives us an opportunity to examine historical events that led to the GOP's ascendancy in Alabama and the rest of the Deep South.

The Republican takeover of Dixie started 60 years ago with a speech by one of Minnesota's most famous native sons, Hubert Humphrey.

In an excellent article in today's Birmingham News, Mary Orndorff writes that Humphrey was a 37-year-old mayor of Minneapolis when he took the podium at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and gave a speech on civil rights, arguing the nation was overdue for recognizing the rights of all its citizens.

When an enhanced civil-rights platform was approved, half of the Alabama delegation and all of the Mississippi delegation left the convention hall and boarded a train for Birmingham, where they gave birth to the Dixiecrats. The group of Southerners would meet in Birmingham's Boutwell Auditorium to found the States' Rights Party, with Strom Thurmond as its presidential nominee.

What did Humphrey say in that 1948 speech? He pushed for elimination of a poll tax, plus adoption of fair-labor and anti-lynching laws:

"My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late," Humphrey said. "To those who say that this civil rights program is an infringement on states' rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states' rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights."

Humphrey tried to calm the rattled nerves of Southerners at the convention. But it didn't work:

"Let me say at the outset that this proposal is made with no single region, no single class, no single racial or religious group in mind," Humphrey said. "All regions and all states have shared in the precious heritage of American freedom. All states and all regions have at least some infringements of that freedom - all people, all groups have been the victims of discrimination."

Samuel Webb, a history professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), said Humphrey's speech sparked a race-based conservative movement that has come to dominate the South:

"I look upon the birth of the Dixiecrat movement as the real founding of the modern day Republican Party in the South," said Webb, who is a Democrat. "A lot of those people who were Dixiecrats didn't become Republicans, but a lot of them eventually did."

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