Commentary Magazine

The Negro & the Democratic Coalition

Of the key elements in the American electorate, Negroes have consistently been the most loyal of voters. Over the past half century, when major shifts of power have occurred from one party to another, Negroes have generally lagged one election behind the rest of the nation. Thus, they broke from their Republican allegiance and went for Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, not 1932; and they swung for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, not 1952. Moreover, when control of cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New York has changed, Negroes have usually been the last to forsake the losing party.

This record of party loyalty contrasts quite sharply with the much-publicized political strategy of Negro leaders, of trying to hold the balance of power in Presidential elections by keeping the Negro voter independent of both Democrats and Republicans and ready to shift to whichever bids highest in terms of action on civil rights. In essence, this strategy assumes that the issue of civil rights is the one overriding consideration that governs Negro political thinking. Actually, however, although racial feeling has come to dominate the voting of Negroes in the South, the story of the Negro in Northern politics revolves around his slow acquisition of other than racial interests. It was the development of these other interests—such as the attractions of the big city machine and the economic appeal of the New Deal—that broke the Negro's traditional Republicanism in the first place and moved him into the Democratic party, despite its being the party of his hated political foe, the white Southerner. For the immediate future, the important fact of Negro political life remains the solidarity with which he has dug into the Democratic party. This solidarity, however, is not an unmixed blessing for the Democrats. While it yields them a plurality of a million or more votes in a Presidential contest, it has also helped bring about an upheaval in the voting of whites in the South and may do so in the North as well.


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That negroes should now be so deeply entrenched in the Democratic party is all the more astonishing when one recalls how intense was their loyalty to the party of Abraham Lincoln and emancipation. After the Civil War, most Negroes were raised to agree with Frederick Douglass, the ex-slave and first recognized Negro leader, who declared: “I would as soon go to hell as vote Democratic.” But as Negroes moved North, they soon acquired a second loyalty—to the political machine in the city where they lived. Indeed, in some cities, like New York, Negroes developed the practice of voting for the Democrats in local elections and for the Republicans in Presidential contests. This same split loyalty persisted into the New Deal years when, as in Philadelphia, Negroes continued to vote with the Republican machine in local elections long after they had turned Democratic in Presidential voting.

The Negro's dependence on the political machine has lasted to this day. Possibly because of continued migration, sizable numbers of Negroes need the services traditionally performed by the machines. In the 1920's and early 1930's, there were baskets before Christmas or coalbins to be filled; there was also help in getting out of legal scrapes, in raising bail, or in finding jobs. In more recent years, the big city machine has offered assistance in getting onto the relief or welfare rolls, or into public housing projects.

How strong was the pull of the machine upon the early Negro migrants from the South could be seen in New York City, where Tammany Hall managed to win the Negroes over despite an impressive pro-slavery reputation. Before the Civil War, Tammany henchmen often broke up abolitionist meetings. In 1860, Mayor Fernando Wood used gangs of Tammany repeaters to sweep New York City for Stephen Douglas, with 62,611 votes to Lincoln's 33,311. When it seemed certain the South would secede, Mayor Wood actually proposed that New York also secede from the United States and establish itself as an independent city-state so that it could continue to trade with the South. Even as late as 1915, fewer than 1,000 Negroes were enrolled as Democrats in the whole city. Yet by 1920, the exodus from the South had swelled New York's Negro population to over 150,000, and the bulk of the newcomers tended to vote Democratic in local elections. By 1930, when New York's Negro population stood at 327,000, only three of the twenty-two political clubs in the city were still Republican.

This alliance of the Negro with the corrupt political bosses dismayed white reformers, but not Negro leaders. In 1925, in an article for the Crisis, W. E. B. Du Bois defended Ferdinand Q. Morton, the Democratic boss of Harlem. Before Morton became the leader of Black Tammany, Du Bois argued, there had not been a single Negro on the New York City police force, nor any Negro representatives in the legislative branches of the state or city; now, however, the city was employing “fifty or more policemen, hundreds of Negro clerks, stenographers, typists, investigators, parole officers, court attendants. One Negro is an alderman; the state legislature includes a Negro.” Morton, Du Bois conceded, “does not attempt to stop all gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution in Harlem. But he does limit these things and protects those who wish to be decent and he has helped make Harlem a far better residence quarter than it used to be.”

Similarly, when in 1928 the Thompson machine in Chicago sent Oscar De Priest to Washington as the first Northern Negro congressman, Du Bois acknowledged “with bowed head” that it would have been nicer if De Priest stood for virtue. But, said Du Bois, if he stood for virtue, he would never have been elected, since the only organized interest that would support a Negro for Congress was allied with the rule of crime.

The Negro political advance was more rapid in Chicago than in any other city. In part this could be credited to segregation: the fact that virtually all of Chicago's Negroes were crowded into one compact residential area made them the dominant voting force in the city's First Congressional District. In Chicago, as well, the Republican party was torn by factional strife. As “Big Bill” Thompson was to demonstrate, a solid Negro vote could be decisive in winning the GOP nomination for mayor. Thompson, whose three terms as mayor have been called among the “worst” in Chicago history, was a showman politician—barkers would entice passers-by into his rallies by shouting “See Big Bill in Person”—and he played heavily to the ethnic galleries. German-Americans then constituted the largest single immigrant bloc in Chicago, and Thompson appealed for their votes by opposing America's entry into World War I. He also exploited Irish hatred of England through such antics as accusing the King of England of wanting George Washington's photograph removed from Chicago textbooks.

Still, neither of these performances had the sustained effectiveness of his bid for Negro support. Thompson had started in politics as a “reformer” alderman from the Second Ward—then, as now, the main area of Negro residence in Chicago. The first measure he introduced into the City Council called for a $1,200 appropriation to build a public playground—Chicago's first—in the Negro part of his ward. He promised Negroes, “I'll give your people jobs.” He told them, “if any of you want to shoot craps go ahead and do it. When I'm mayor the police will have something better to do than break up a little friendly crap game.” As mayor, Thompson banned the showing of The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan. He passed out so many jobs to Negroes that his opponents often referred to City Hall as “Uncle Tom's Cabin.” The Negro voters responded to this political courtship with the affection of a long-neglected spinster. In the 1927 Republican primary, the Second Ward gave Thompson a swooning 95 per cent of its vote; in the 1931 primary, 91 per cent of its vote. But by 1931, most of Chicago had wearied of Big Bill and his alliance with the Al Capone mob. He got only 40 per cent of the total vote in the 1931 election, even though more than 80 per cent of the Negroes in the Second and Third Wards remained loyal to him.


By far the most impressive demonstration of Negro party loyalty, however, came in the 1932 Presidential election. No other voting group in the nation had been hit harder by unemployment; also, during much of his administration Herbert Hoover had been widely criticized by Negro newspapers and Negro leaders. Nevertheless, Negroes defected in smaller numbers in the 1932 election than did any other group of Republican voters. In both Chicago and Cleveland, where nearly a third of all Negro males were jobless, Hoover drew more than three-fourths of the vote in the heaviest Negro wards; in Philadelphia, where more than a fourth of the Negro workers were out of work, the colored wards gave him 70 per cent of their vote. In Detroit's three Negro wards, Republican loyalty was thinned, with Hoover squeezing out only a bare majority. He also lost Harlem's two assembly districts and Pittsburgh's “Hill” wards by narrow margins.

In the nation as a whole, the really big Negro political break came in 1936, when the Republicans captured only 19 per cent of the Negro wards in New York, 25 per cent in Detroit, 17 per cent in Pittsburgh, 34 per cent in Philadelphia, 38 per cent in Cleveland, and 51 per cent in Chicago. At the time, observers credited this astonishing political conversion to work relief provided by the creation of WPA, which not only employed millions of Negroes, but also served as an economic floor for the whole Negro community. And indeed, rarely has any single government action so suddenly lifted the economic bargaining power of a whole race. As long as a Negro could go on WPA, he was not forced to accept work at any wage that might be offered him.

But the impact of the New Deal on the Negroes extended far beyond WPA. Thus, the CCC Camps drew something like 200,000 Negroes off the city streets, 30,000 of them living in integrated camps; PWA funds were allocated to build housing, schools, and hospitals for Negroes; and the swelling rosters of government employees included a record number of Negro appointees.

More significant, perhaps, than the increase in the number of Negro appointees was the change in the quality of this patronage. Under Republican Presidents a handful of federal posts had been reserved by tradition for Negroes. Invariably these positions—the recorder of deeds in Washington, D.C., and the register of the Treasury, or as envoys to Haiti, Liberia, and other parts of Africa—were far removed from any concern with domestic Negro problems. During the first few New Deal years, however, 55 Negroes were named to government posts, and by 1940 the number had risen to more than 100. These government appointees helped generate a sense of identification with the Democratic party among younger Negroes then in high school and college. An even more dramatic lift to Negro aspirations was provided by Eleanor Roosevelt, the first President's wife to demonstrate a warm, personal interest in Negroes. (During the 1936 campaign, the Negro Division of the Democratic party distributed a million photographs of Mrs. Roosevelt talking with Negro professors at Howard University.)

Impressive as was each of these actions, they were far. less important than the truly revolutionary change Roosevelt effected in bringing the Negro into the newly formed New Deal coalition of big city voters, which established the Democrats as the normal majority party in the country. Before the New Deal, the nation's workers had been divided by racial, religious, and nationality differences. To all these elements once so hostile to each other, Roosevelt imparted a common sense of economic class consciousness. As a result, in every Presidential election from 1936 on, the voting in all our Northern cities would stratify sharply along economic lines. The lower the income in any neighborhood, the heavier the Democratic vote. As one climbed the rungs of the economic ladder, Republican strength would rise proportionately.

Three appeals cemented the Negro into the New Deal coalition: his stake in government programs; his attachment to the big machines which in city after city came under Democratic control; and the newly formed CIO, to which Negroes were admitted on the same basis as white workers.


Of these, the CIO was probably the most crucial, symbolizing as it did the most revolutionary change in Negro life touched off by the New Deal. Since the days of slavery, white and Negro workers had looked on each other as hated economic rivals. During the Populist agitation in the South, Tom Watson had tried to unite the poor white and poor black farmers, but when this effort failed he turned to “nigger baiting.” In the Northern industrial cities as well, the AFL unions had traditionally barred Negroes from membership and Negroes had responded by serving as strikebreakers. In the CIO unions, however, the Negro was at last able to find a basis of common interest with white persons of the same economic class. Whether white or black, workers on the same job would draw identical pay and be governed by the same seniority rules.

It was no accident that the determination to write a new page in labor history proved strongest in the “open shop” industries like steel, meat packing, rubber, and automobiles. These were the industries in which sizable numbers of Negroes were already employed, and in which racial antagonisms had to be suppressed if a successful union was to be formed. The steel strike of 1919, for example, had been broken by the importation of nearly 30,000 Negro strikebreakers. Similarly, when the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butchers tried to organize the meat packing industry, the employers set up a rival Negro union, the American Unity Labor Union, which declared: “This union does not believe in strikes. We believe all differences between laborers and capitalists can be arbitrated. Strike is our last motive, if any at all.” By contrast, relatively few Northern Negroes had been able to break into crafts like carpentering and plumbing. Such unions faced no need to admit Negroes, for they could maintain a monopoly control of available jobs without changing their racial policies.

The fact that Negro workers were being accepted as the equals of white unionists fired the imaginations not only of the Negro masses but of their leaders. Many of them, like Walter White, wrote and talked of organized labor with evangelistic fervor as bearing the promise of complete racial and economic emancipation. Negro intellectuals, who had generally been pro-business during the 1920's, swung and tied their hopes for the future to the new Negro-labor-liberal alliance.

This exhilarating sense of being part of the majority coalition was strengthened by the expansion of employment during World War II. Even after Hitler overran France, large numbers of Negroes still remained unemployed. But in 1942, after A. Philip Randolph had pressured Roosevelt into creating the Fair Employment Practices Commission, the color line began to give. Between 1940 and 1944, more than a million Negroes, many fresh off the farms in the South, found new jobs in industry. Some were employed in non-defense jobs deserted by white workers; other Negroes were admitted into the construction trades in government plants; still others broke into aircraft and defense work in general. Roughly 250,000 migrated to the Pacific coast. In four to five years, as Robert Weaver calculated, the number of Negroes in skilled jobs doubled. Many entered industries in which few if any Negroes had worked before. Those few war years, in fact, brought more diversification of Negro occupations than had occurred in the whole of the seventy-five preceding years.


With the end of World War II, the political conversion of the Negro was all but completed. From a strikebreaker during the 1920's he had been transformed into the most faithful of union members; from the staunchest of Republicans into the most loyal of Democrats. In 1948, with the Dixiecrats bolting in the South, Negroes rallied behind Harry Truman with an even heavier percentage of their vote than they had given Franklin Roosevelt. Four years later, when nearly every other element in the Democratic coalition was breaking for Eisenhower, Negroes racked up a still larger percentage for Adlai Stevenson than they had for Truman, even though the selection of a Southerner, Senator John Sparkman of Alabama, as Stevenson's Vice-Presidential running mate irritated most Negro leaders. After the 1952 convention was over, Walter White wrote an article for Look magazine headlined “Win Our Vote or Lose,” in which he argued that the Negro vote was still undecided and would be won over by the position taken by the candidates on civil rights during the campaign.

Actually there never was any indecision among Negro voters. Immediately after the conventions I started across the country interviewing voters on the election. The Negroes I interviewed in Los Angeles during early August were as firm in their intention to vote Democratic as were those I talked with in Harlem two months later. White's thesis of an independent Negro vote was being pushed as a bargaining argument in the hope that Stevenson and Eisenhower would compete against each other with promises of civil rights action. But my own interviews indicated that the Negro's attachment to the Democratic party was primarily economic, with civil rights exerting only a secondary appeal.

“I've been thinking of voting for Eisenhower,” said one twenty-two-year-old Negro in Detroit, “but every time I mention it, my father and mother start talking of the terrible time they had in the depression. Listening to them makes you want to vote Democratic.” In St. Louis, asked how he felt about a Southerner being on the ticket as Vice-President, a Negro laborer replied, “That don't mean anything. I'm a working man How can I vote anything but Democratic?” The wife of a Pittsburgh redcap pointed out: “We've been able to buy our own home and move up out of the Hill [a slum district] under the Democrats. Why would we want to change?”

The Democratic loyalty expressed in these interviews, it is worth noting, extended beyond the Negro's interest as a labor union member. The comments also showed a general gratitude for economic gains and a preference for heavier government spending. “It's easier to earn a buck under the Democrats,” said one Los Angeles musician. “When the Republicans get in, the money goes somewhere. The big fellows must hold onto it.”

After Eisenhower sent troops into Little Rock, a sizable number of Negroes did begin to think that the Republicans might push civil rights more energetically than the Democrats. In a 1957 survey, when Negroes were asked which party was best for them on civil rights, a majority picked the Republicans. But these same Negroes named the Democrats as “the best party for jobs” by a 3 and 4 to 1 margin.

The Roosevelt and postwar years also brought tightened Democratic control of the larger cities. In Chicago, gratitude for the patronage which Thompson had extended remained so strong that the Second Ward did not give Roosevelt a majority until 1944, and William Dawson, the Negro boss, was not able to solidify his control until 1948. In Philadelphia, even while giving Roosevelt two-thirds of their votes, the predominantly Negro wards continued to turn in Republican majorities in elections for mayor. Not until the Democrats swept City Hall in 1955 did this gap between local and Presidential voting disappear. In New York City, the LaGuardia administration gained strong support in the Negro areas, but after his defeat in 1945, the Democratic hold on the Negro vote solidified.

The high Democratic percentages being cast by the Negroes do not mean that they are politically satisfied. However, these percentages do indicate that the bulk of Negroes remain emotionally committed to the Democratic party as the one that will best advance their interests. Put another way, Negro discontents do not seem to be operating to drive the Negroes out of the Democratic party or to break free of the big city machines or out of the labor unions. (In 1958 when right-to-work proposals were voted on in four states—Ohio, California, Colorado, and Kansas—Negroes went 9 to 1 against them, by far the heaviest opposition shown by any worker group.) For the Democratic coalition the political danger posed by the swelling Negro vote is not that Negroes will bolt to the Republicans, but rather that Negro demands may drive white Democratic voters out. Already the conflicts stirred in the North during the past few years over housing, jobs, and schools have weakened the ties that have bound the elements in the Democratic coalition together. In both the North and the South, shortly before the assassination of Kennedy, many normally Democratic voters were blaming him for the demands being pressed by the Negroes and talked of switching to the Republicans in 1964. (In Philadelphia, for example, on the eve of the 1963 election for mayor, my interviews showed that a fifth of the voters who had backed Kennedy in 1960 said they would vote against him in 1964.)

Nearly all this political anger died down after the assassination. Racial angers persisted, but no one pointed them at the new President. On the contrary: while to loyal Kennedy supporters the new President's opening speech to Congress was assurance that “he'll hold to the liberal line,” to other voters the significant symbol was Johnson's being “a Southerner”—which to them meant, “he's bound to be more conservative” than Kennedy had been. And while Negroes were delighted with the President's pledge to fight for Kennedy's civil rights bill, most Southerners dismissed the pledge as “something Johnson had to say” and felt “he's bound to go slower” on civil rights.


Thus, the early voter reaction to Johnson left little doubt that he would be able to bring at least temporary unity to the Democratic party. Throughout the South, which had been rumbling with political fury against the Kennedy brothers, there was an immediate upsurge of enthusiasm. “He sounds like one of us!” exclaimed a limousine driver in Greensboro, N.C. “When Johnson quotes from the Bible I know he's like the people I was raised with,” an airport attendant at Raleigh remarked. Other voters explained their shift to Johnson by saying, “I went against Kennedy because he was a Catholic. But I'm still a Democrat.”

But probably the key reason for Johnson's popularity in the South was the almost universal expectation that “he won't push as hard” as Kennedy did on civil rights. A factory foreman in Birmingham summed up the feeling of much of the South when he remarked, “That was a rotten way for Kennedy to go, but I'll be frank with you, I think Johnson will be a big improvement. He understands the South.” With this feeling, however, went a greater readiness to accept a civil rights program from Johnson than would have been the case with Kennedy. In the first few weeks after Kennedy's death, seven of every ten Southerners interviewed thought “some law has to be passed.” (“I'd let Johnson have it,” said one Louisiana builder, “if I thought he wouldn't enforce it.”)

This readiness of Southerners to accept moderate civil rights legislation is not as surprising as it may seem. Actually, only a minority of Southerners, mainly in Mississippi and Alabama, believe desegregation can be halted completely. Their best hope has been to slow down the process. “We'll get it no matter who is President,” was the commonly voiced feeling. “Maybe Johnson will do as well for us as anyone could.”

Nevertheless, that Southern resistance could flare up again quite quickly was made clear by the responses given me to the question: “What if Robert Kennedy is named for Vice-President with Johnson?” More than a third of the Johnson supporters declared that they would vote against him if Bobby Kennedy were on the ticket. Remarks like these were typical:

Running Bobby Kennedy would be hitting the South below the belt.

I'll never take a chance on a Kennedy becoming President again.

He's not for the white man.

In short, though agreement on civil rights seemed likely under Johnson, it could hardly prove more than a shaky truce, constantly in danger of being upset. As the past has shown, each new piece of civil rights legislation and each new court decision only sets the stage for a new, bitter struggle over enforcement. Johnson is thus likely to find himself facing the same critical test that confronted both Kennedy and Eisenhower: should he use federal troops to enforce integration in the South? Both Kennedy and Eisenhower suffered sharp drops in popularity in the South when they called out the troops, and in the future the political reaction could prove even more explosive. The new uncertainty is how white Northerners may react, particularly if Negro demonstrations and disturbances in the North coincide with violence in the South.

To put this another way, Negro militancy is transforming the civil rights struggle from what has been a North-South conflict into what could become a conflict of whites against Negroes across the whole nation. By opening, as they did, a second front in the North, the Negro militants exposed themselves to the counterattack of a Southern appeal for alliance with Northern whites who might be alienated by Negro demands. That this is a serious threat can be seen in the vote rolled up by Alabama's Governor Wallace in the 1964 Presidential primaries in Maryland, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

The full political effects of this change in the civil rights struggle may take years to register, but they clearly will add to the stresses and strains within the Democratic party. To keep the Democratic coalition from splitting will require strenuous political exertions—exertions which will not be confined to racial matters. In fact, the more difficult it becomes to quiet racial tensions, the more attention Democratic leaders are likely to give to bolstering the other ties that hold the Democratic following together.

First, increased recognition will probably be accorded the Negro in the big city machines. In New York City, for instance, some Democratic leaders are already making plans to turn their political clubhouses into “job agencies” for Negroes who would be employed on city projects Other patronage favors will be extended to strengthen the hands of the faithful Negro Democrats against the more militant Negroes outside the machines. Of course, this strategy could backfire. In Philadelphia the new job preferences given Negroes angered even the staunchest party workers in white neighborhoods. In the 1959 mayoralty contest, there were 33 precincts which voted 90 per cent Democratic; in the 1963 mayoralty, the Negro precincts in this group voted 85 per cent Democratic, but the white precincts broke to only 65 per cent.

A second result of the struggle to keep the Democratic coalition from flying apart is likely to be an intensification of the pressures for nominating a Catholic as Vice-President, or as President, once Johnson is out of the running. East of the Mississippi, most Northern cities are fairly heavily Catholic and it is in the Catholic neighborhoods that the strongest resentments against Negroes are to be found. Hence, one probable consideration in the naming of the Democratic candidates will be the idea that a Catholic on the ticket might cut down any potential Democratic defection among white voters over racial issues.

Third, heavy reliance will be placed on actions designed to enhance the economic appeal of the Democratic party. My own interviewing has often disclosed voters who threatened to bolt the Democratic party in racial anger, but who would reverse themselves when asked, “What if the President came out strong for medical care for older people under social security?”

Still, there is no simple formula for reconciling the economic interests of all the Democratic voting elements. Negroes on the whole, being so dependent on government assistance, constitute a powerful force for government spending. But other Democratic voting elements are more divided, They tend to favor government spending to the level where it holds up employment, but are inclined to balk if it means higher taxes or rising prices. These differences over spending could prove a source of Democratic weakness, particularly in state and local politics. During recent years, state and local taxes have risen drastically as the states and cities have been forced to provide schools, hospitals, and other services for a rising and shifting population. One consequence is that taxpayer revolts have broken out in many communities—which helps explain why so many governors have been defeated for re-election in recent campaigns. To aggravate the situation, the financial squeeze in many localities will be screwed tighter in the hunt for extra funds to improve the schooling of Negroes and to ease their other problems. Thus for some years the pattern of political conflict promises to be much stormier at the local and state levels than at the Presidential level.

Being nationwide in its impact, the racial crisis requires national policies to equalize the treatment of the Negro in different parts of the country. At present, however, the Democratic majority seems unable to devise a program of effective racial unification for the nation. Perhaps the most that can be expected from a Democratic President under these circumstances is a remarkable performance in political acrobatics. At times it will appear that the conflicting elements and pressures within the party are certain to topple him. And yet, in coalition politics the party leader beset on all sides is often in a better position than if under pressure from only one direction. Conflicting pressures help define the range of bargaining that is possible, allowing the party leader to point out to each voting element that he can go only so far before he must compromise.


Even so, the tug of these conflicting demands could at some point prove too violent, beyond compromise—particularly if the right Republican candidate, with the right program, came along. Shortly before President Kennedy's assassination, in a talk at Oberlin College, I ventured the judgment that the Republican party was on the verge of making a historic, all-out bid for the political support of the South. Johnson's accession has dimmed the lure of this Southern adventure, but the forces moving the Republicans to court the South remain quite strong. For these forces are not simply those that have been stirred by the uproar over civil rights: long-building influences are also at work.

The basic fact is that of all parts of the nation, the South has been the one where the Republicans have shown the most consistent gains in political strength since the end of World War II. Between 1950 and 1962, for example, the Republicans increased their Southern seats in Congress from two to eleven. In Presidential elections from 1932 through 1948, the GOP drew only a sixth to a fourth of the South's vote, but Eisenhower drew 37 per cent in 1952 and 49 per cent in 1956, and Nixon in 1960 drew 46.

The consistency of this Republican showing in the South is worth some emphasis. In 1952 Eisenhower's victory was popularly attributed to his personality and war-hero fame. Yet when the election returns are analyzed precinct by precinct and county by county, two striking facts emerge: first, in all three elections—1952, 1956, and 1960—the Republican vote centered in much the same counties and precincts. Second, the voting followed the same pattern that prevails outside of the South.

Thus, it was in the cities of the South that Eisenhower and Nixon found their strongest support: of the South's 47 largest cities, Nixon carried 30 and drew above 40 per cent in the remaining 17. In all these cities it was always the better-income neighborhoods that gave Eisenhower and Nixon their heaviest vote. A selected group of Southern silk stocking precincts that I have followed through every election since 1948 voted 66 per cent for Nixon, as compared with 36 per cent for a similar group of labor precincts. In the rural counties the Eisenhower-Nixon strength was concentrated mainly in the towns, among the Main Street merchants. The farmers themselves tended to stick with the Democrats.

In both the Southern cities and in the countryside, then, the Republican gains of recent years have really been a projection of the tendency toward economic voting which started with the New Deal. Being bound to a Democratic tradition, the South was slower to realign than the rest of the nation. Although the beginnings of this new voting cleavage on income lines showed up faintly in 1944 and 1948, it did not really break through until 1952. In this respect, the historic significance of the Eisenhower victories will be found in the fact that they initiated the transformation of the Republicans into a truly national party with strength in every part of the country. The Republican showing in the South will rise and fall from one Presidential election to the next, but the habit of voting in terms of economic interests will persist and may even become more pronounced if the trends toward a managed economy intensify.

The 1962 elections revealed a tendency for this economic voting to be projected into state and Congressional elections as well. The eleven Congressional seats won by the GOP in 1962 were all districts that Eisenhower had carried in 1952 and 1956. In both Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the victorious Republican candidate for governor, Henry Bellmon, carried almost the identical precincts that had earlier been won by Eisenhower and Nixon. In Texas, where Jack Cox, with 46 per cent of the vote, made the best showing of any Republican candidate for governor in recent Texas history, support flowed along in precisely the same channels that were first grooved out by Eisenhower.

A sampling of rural Texas communities shows that Cox ran nearly 10 per cent stronger among the Main Street merchants than among the farmers in the countryside. Inside the cities his vote showed the same scaling by income as was exhibited in the 1952-1960 Presidential elections. Thus, where Houston's well-to-do River Oaks section gave Cox 79 per cent of its vote, worker precincts gave him less than 35 per cent. Of the 140 Houston precincts carried by Cox, all but four voted Republican for President in 1952, 1956, and 1960—and those four only narrowly missed giving Nixon a majority. In 1956, the Eisenhower-Stevenson vote broke even in precincts where homes are valued around $10,000. In 1962, the break-even point for Cox came in neighborhoods where the average home is worth around $13,000.


The realignment of Southern voting along economic lines is, then, well under way. The one thing that keeps this realignment from being completed is the unresolved racial struggle. In nearly every Southern state racial emotions are sufficiently intense to constitute the balance of voting power. When these feelings lie quiet, the political balance favors the Democrats, but a popular recoil against efforts to enforce integration could well swing much of the South out of the Democratic fold. In 1962, after Kennedy's use of federal troops at the Universities of Mississippi and Alabama, the Republican vote for U.S. Senator in Alabama hit an all-time Republican high: the three urban counties containing Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery voted 56 per cent Republican (as compared with 53 per cent for Nixon and 50 per cent for Eisenhower). Worker precincts in these counties that had gone for Kennedy 2 to 1 swung to give the Republicans a majority. Even more explosive was the reaction of the ten so-called black-belt counties, where Negroes outnumber the whites but do not vote. These counties had given Eisenhower a third of their vote, but they went 54 per cent Republican in the 1962 election for U.S. Senator.

When, after the Birmingham demonstrations, Democratic defection showed up in the Northern cities, some Republican strategists thought the political stage was set for an all-out assault upon the South and an effort to merge into a conservative coalition all the issues symbolic of resistance to “too much government.” Johnson's accession bared the essential weakness in such a “Southern” strategy—its reliance on a relatively extreme sense of grievance which can wilt readily under the warming sun of moderation. To crack the South, the Republicans need to sharpen rather than blur political issues: something that Johnson's presence in the White House makes it hard for them to do. His much-publicized efforts to turn off electric lights in the White House and to cut the Kennedy budget by a symbolic billion or two, for example, could not have been better calculated if their purpose were to lull the more conservative voters in the South.

But the Republican need to sharpen issues in the South also clashes with GOP needs in many Northern states. The fact that so much of the Democratic following has climbed to taxpaying, middle-class status has brought into being a new moderate-minded generation of voters, who are neither fully comfortable with all the old Roosevelt slogans nor yet prepared to embrace Republicanism. That these voters can be won over by a strategy of blurring the differences between the parties is evident from the election of Republican governors like Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and George Romney, and from the popularity of Senators like Thomas Kuchel in California, Jacob Javits in New York, and Clifford Case in New Jersey.

Rejecting the idea of an alliance with the white South, some “liberal” Republican strategists have urged that, on the contrary, an all-out bid be made for the Negro vote in the major Northern cities. But this course has tended to become less and less attractive to the Republicans in view of the solidarity of the Negro Democratic vote. Negro voting solidarity, in fact, has become a major pressure pushing the Republicans toward an alliance with the white South.

Consider the change in Congressional representation in the twelve largest cities in the nation. Since 1930 the northward migration of Southern Negroes has more than tripled the Negro population in these twelve cities, converting whole sections into virtually solid Negro precincts. By 1962, five of these cities were sending Negro congressmen, all Democrats, to Washington. But as more and more Negroes have moved into the central cities, more and more white families—most of them Democrats—have moved out, toppling previously Republican districts in other parts of the city and in the suburbs. As a result, between 1952—when the Republicans last held control of Congress—and 1962, the number of Republican congressmen from these twelve cities dropped from 22 to 8. Six of these cities—St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Boston—are now without a single Republican congressman. In Chicago from 1952 to 1962, the number of Republican-held seats dropped from 5 to 2, these last two being part-city and part-suburb; in New York the number of Republican seats fell during the same period from 7 to 3; and in Los Angeles from 4 to 1 (a partly suburban district).

Largely because of these urban losses, it has become virtually impossible for the Republicans to recapture control of Congress—unless they can pick up additional seats in the South. Of the 259 Congressional seats that the Democrats held in 1962, there were 152 which had not elected a Republican since at least 1940. Another 29 districts had been Democratic since at least 1948. Among the remaining 78 districts, 29 more could be considered “safe” seats in that they voted 60 per cent Democratic or better in 1962. This left only 49 Democratic seats, largely in the suburbs, the Western cities, and the semi-rural Midwest, which could be considered as really contested. To gain control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans would have to sweep all but 7 of these 49 seats, something unlikely to happen unless they are winning the Presidency by a landslide.

The probability of a Republican bid for the Northern Negro vote has been reduced still further by the new tensions and strains between white and Negro Democrats in the North. Thus the Republicans are more likely to try to win over white voters who may be alienated by Negro demands. This aim does not require an open bid for the South by advocating a do-nothing racial policy under the slogan of states rights. Actually a policy favoring a moderate pace of racial progress could prove acceptable to both Southerners and white voters in the North who feel that “the Negroes are pushing too hard.”

Johnson's accession to the Presidency has given the Democrats more time to strengthen their defenses against another successful Republican onslaught in the South. Efforts to increase Negro voting in the South can be considered part of such a strengthening strategy. The ever widening acceptance of desegregation is another key influence making the South less vulnerable politically to Republican attack. Against that, however, the militancy of the Southern Negro and the resistance of the extreme segregationists threaten constantly to tear apart the forces of moderation, with repercussions that reverberate into the North. If Johnson remains in office long enough, the moderates may emerge triumphant in the South. But at this stage, with no racial settlement in sight, the South remains the exposed flank of the Democratic party through which it can be most effectively attacked.


As for the Negroes, theirs is a paradoxical political situation. Allegiance to the Democratic party has gained Negro leaders a sympathetic audience in the White House and considerable influence with Democratic Presidents. But this same voting solidarity has been somewhat self-defeating in that it has contributed to Democratic dominance in Congress, and hence to the power of the white South.

The Negro strategy for forcing racial change in the South has been built around executive action, on the belief that the President will intervene with troops if necessary in any showdown. But in the committees of Congress, Negro bargaining power remains weak. And since the Republicans, as a minority in Congress, are constantly tempted to enter into coalition with some Democratic faction, the interests of the Negroes are always in danger of being traded off for Southern support on issues of importance to Republican constituencies.

The disadvantage of too strong a commitment to one party has been recognized by many Negro leaders and scholars who, like Gunnar Myrdal, have urged Negroes to divide their support between both major parties. But the Negro's economic and social complexion makes it hard for him to follow this advice. For one thing, there is still comparatively little economic differentiation among Negroes, so that normal political divisions along economic lines do not take place. Higher-income Negro neighborhoods do show a larger Republican vote than working-class areas, but on the whole, the new Negro middle class in the Northern cities tends to knit the Negro more firmly to the Democratic party. One reason is that government workers constitute by far the largest single element in this middle class. The federal government employs one in every eighteen Negro workers—the figure was 300,000 in 1962. Of these, more than 1,400 held jobs paying over $10,000 a year, and another 34,143 held jobs paying between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.

Perhaps as important, the sense of common interest with “business,” which pulls so many other voters to the Republicans, is extremely low among Negroes. Even among the best educated Negroes, few envision careers with a company, while the Negro financial stake in business is quite limited. Of the hundred Negroes rated as most influential by Ebony Magazine in 1963, only nine were clearly identifiable as businessmen. One, Jackie Robinson, is vice-president of a restaurant chain; another, S. S. Fuller, is a cosmetics manufacturer who has successfully competed in the white market. The other seven are in insurance and savings-and-loan companies, catering primarily to Negro customers. Negro wealth has been growing, but the few Negro businesses of any size remain primarily life insurance companies.

So many bonds hold the Negro to the Democratic party that it will be very difficult for even an impassioned sense of racial grievance to sever them. Temporary “bolts” by Negro Democrats may take place, but as of now these are not likely to shatter the basic Democratic loyalty of the Negro voter. Nevertheless, for some years to come the Negro will probably remain a disruptive force politically, weakening the Democratic coalition. The long-run fate of the Democratic party—the issue of survival or slow death—hinges on whether it will be able to unify the nation racially, and that means bringing the South into line with the rest of the nation. The first such effort, which involved an attempt to project the Negro-labor alliance into the South after Roosevelt's death, failed. Instead of allowing itself to be remade in the image of Northern liberalism, the South responded with a double insurgency: an economic revolt aimed at checking the power of labor unions and reducing government spending, and a racial policy designed to counter the influence of Negro voting in the North. This response by the South spurred the rise of a new militancy on the part of the Negro, a militancy unrestrained by the compromises of coalition politics. The same militancy, transferred to the Northern Negro, now threatens to alienate the white Democratic voters in the big cities.


One of two doors can be opened to the future. Either unrelenting pressure by the Negroes will force the Democrats to rise to the necessity of framing a program of racial unification for the nation, in which case the party—and the nation—will be saved; or the Democrats will fail to rise to the occasion, in which case the nation will suffer the throes and agonies that come with the slow deterioration of the majority party.

The second conclusion that arises from this analysis is that too heavy a reliance has been placed on the power of Negro voting. The absence of voting rights is intolerable, and as the South has shown, a minimum voting representation is indispensable to avoid being disregarded completely. But it does not follow that the bargaining power of the Negro will rise proportionately with each fresh increase in Negro voting numbers. For as more and more Negroes exercise the right of suffrage, and if they continue to vote as a bloc, white voters will unite against them. If political power is to be the deciding force, enough white resistance can be expected to keep Negro advances at limits acceptable to whites.

This prospect has its moral for white voters as well. Many liberals have deceived themselves with the belief that as Negroes gained political strength they would be able to demand and get better treatment. But the truth is that the Negro is not strong enough to make the white man do the right thing. If we are to resolve our racial crisis, a program for racial unification will have to be devised which extends beyond the trials of political bargaining power.

Can this be done? To date, the evidence indicates that it cannot.

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