If a drama reporter were to make a political tour of the South today, he might sum up his findings…
Ever since the election of 1936, the theme of a possible Southern breakaway from the national Democratic party has been a favorite one for political speculation. The cleavage on the civil rights issue has become wider with every year, while the original Southern allegiance to the New Deal has been transformed into open hostility. In 1952, according to Samuel Lubell, the possibility of the break has become a near certainty, and he finds a picture in microcosm of things to come in the defeat suffered by Senator Frank Graham in the North Carolina primaries two years ago.
If a drama reporter were to make a political tour of the South today, he might sum up his findings in these terms: “The cast is set, the actors are memorizing their parts, and only the last act has to be written.”
Some form of Southern bolt from the national Democratic party this November seems virtually certain. The standard-bearer has been chosen—Senator Richard Russell of Georgia—and all that is still troubling most of the Southern political leaders are questions of tactics: how best to bring off the revolt to which they are already committed. These tactical details probably will not be finally determined until the Republicans have named their candidate for president. By the time that the Democratic convention opens, however, Southern strategy will be fully formulated, down to the final, ringing call for political defiance of Harry S. Truman and what he has come to symbolize.
In theory, this strategy could still be upset by Truman triumphs in the Southern primaries during the spring and early summer. But actually these primary contests will be relatively unimportant. For the battles that determined the political course the South will take this year were fought out in the primaries two years ago. The states where “loyalist” Democrats won in 1950, as in Alabama and Arkansas, will probably send delegations to Chicago this July instructed to work for some compromise that will hold together the Democratic coalition. The states where the “Trumancrats” lost in 1950—Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, and Mississippi—will be naming delegations that can be expected to join in open revolt, even to the point of helping elect a Republican president, unless someone acceptable to them wins the Democratic nomination.
The 1950 primaries may well be seen by future historians as the turning point in the political history of the modern South—the year that marked the first trial run of a political alliance of Republicans and Southern Democrats. Those primaries brought to a dramatic political climax all the many social and economic forces that have been reshaping Southern life since the New Deal. Revolutionary as these changes have been, the 1950 primaries showed that their political effect has been to strengthen the Southern conservatives—a rude awakening from the dream of the New Dealers that the South would be “liberalized” politically as the factory smoke thickened over her skies and Negroes began voting in the Democratic primaries, as educational opportunities widened and individual incomes rose.
Perhaps the most vivid single illustration of the political impact of what might be termed the “South’s conservative revolution” was Senator Frank P. Graham’s defeat in the North Carolina primaries two years ago. No man had been more representative of Southern liberalism. Under his presidency the University of North Carolina had become the pioneering center for a courageous self-examination by the South. Graham had fought for labor’s right to organize when to do so was to invite being branded a Bolshevik. A devout Christian who did not smoke, drink, or cuss, he had fought efforts to forbid the teaching of evolution in North Carolina and had defended Bertrand Russell’s right to speak his agnostic philosophy. As a member of President Truman’s Civil Rights Commission, Graham had represented what was believed to be the more enlightened Southern attitude in race relations.
As for North Carolina itself, every book on the South for decades had pointed to North Carolina as the inspiring exception. More industrialized than any other Southern state, it had gone furthest in narrowing the gap in expenditures between white and Negro schools. Its poll tax was lifted in 1920. Not for fifty years had the issue of “white supremacy” been raised in an election campaign. Having had fewer slaves and less of a landed aristocracy in the pre-Civil War period, North Carolina was supposed to be relatively free of race fixations.
This reputation seemed borne out by the May 27, 1950 primary, in which Graham ran 53,000 votes ahead of his closest opponent and came within 1 per cent of the needed majority. On June 24, however, in a runoff, Graham was defeated by 18,000 votes. What had happened to North Carolina’s famed progressiveness in those few weeks?
After the first primary I made a detailed study of the vote, sampling the largest cities and several agricultural counties. When the runoff results were announced I went back through these same cities and farming areas, looking up many of the same people with whom I had talked only a few weeks earlier. Some of Graham’s supporters have tried to explain his defeat as the result of mistakes in political strategy or of the vast sums spent by his opposition. But what I found in my post-mortem of the vote left no doubt that more basic forces were involved. Far from being an accidental slip-up, Graham’s defeat really represented a dress rehearsal for the political role the South will be playing in 1952, and which is the result of the very changes in Southern life that Graham and other Southern liberals have pressed for.
Graham’s political backing is not easily classified. He was supported vigorously by the CIO Textile Workers and by such textile magnates as Spencer Love of Burlington Mills and the owners of the Cone textile chain. In the rural, eastern part of the state, Graham counted heavily on the influence of Governor Kerr Scott, who had a strong following among the small farmers; but Graham also had the support of some of the wealthiest landowners, such as “Cousin Willie” Clark, who ruled Edgecombe County with feudal benevolence. To school teachers Graham personified the progressive ideals of education; but he was also backed by such fundamentalist tycoons as William Henry Belk, the founder of the Belk department store chain, who offers a standing prize of two dollars to any child who can recite the short Presbyterian catechism. If some of Graham’s campaigners were cynical party hacks, others, like Mayne Albright, had come to worship “Doctor Frank” while students at the University of North Carolina.
The vote in the first primary reflected this oddly mixed coalition—both its strengths and its weaknesses. Traditionally, political warfare in North Carolina is fought along an east-west division. In marked contrast to other Southern states, it is to the west of the fall line, in the industrialized Piedmont area, where the Negro population is relatively low, that the conservative strongholds are to be found. The liberal or “protest” vote comes from the eastern agricultural counties, heavily populated by Negroes who do not vote and by large numbers of white tenants who do. But, cutting across these sectional lines, Graham’s vote fell into a pattern unlike any in previous elections in North Carolina.
In the cities Graham was weaker than Truman in labor precincts, but considerably stronger among Negroes and the middle class, carrying some precincts that had gone for Dewey. In Greensboro Graham got 15 per cent more votes than Truman in middle-class precincts, while his vote in the labor boxes was almost a third under Truman’s. Labor had no liking for Graham’s opponent, Willis A. Smith, a former president of the American Bar Association. But many workers couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Graham either, in the face of charges that he favored an FEPC law that would force the hiring of Negroes in place of white workers. Torn in their feelings, large numbers stayed home.
This low labor turnout was in contrast with the astonishing outpouring of voters in the agricultural east. Throughout the state 619,000 ballots were cast in the first primary, 100,000 more than in any previous Democratic primary, but still 20 per cent below the vote for the 1948 general elections. In most of the traditionally “liberal” eastern counties, though, the balloting topped that of the presidential election. At first glance, this was all in Graham’s favor. However, had Graham’s supporters studied the election returns more carefully they would not have been so happy. In the eastern counties where Graham won, the vote ran only 9 per cent higher than in 1948. In the eastern counties that Willis Smith carried the turnout was at least a fifth higher than in 1948. In flat defiance of the accepted belief that a large vote favored the liberal cause, Graham was faring best where the vote was low.
In the light of what happened later, the significance of the figures is clear. In the first primary some dams of restraint had held back part of the anti-Graham vote. During the runoff, those dams gave way and the full flood of racial and economic bitterness poured forth.
The second campaign was slow in starting. Under North Carolina law, if the leading candidate falls short of a majority, the next highest candidate can request a runoff. Smith didn’t announce that he would seek a runoff until June 7, two days after the Supreme Court, winding up work for the summer, ruled that Pullman dining cars would have to give up the practice of race segregation and that the universities of Texas and Oklahoma would have to admit Negroes. Some observers thought Smith might never have sought a runoff if it were not for these rulings. In any case his forces had not been wasting time. They had been collecting campaign funds and mapping their strategy, preparing leaflets and advertisements, and making their deals with local politicians—even hiring away Graham workers.
Graham’s people were at a disadvantage in that they had to wait on Smith’s decision. As campaign manager, Graham had chosen Jeff Johnson, now a state Supreme Court justice, who had managed the successful campaign of Melville Broughton for United States Senator in 1948. A likeable, competent middle-of-the-roader, Johnson was neither easily upset nor given to dramatic action. Taking the position that a runoff had to be expected, he held his organization together. But he was handicapped in raising funds until it was clear that there would be a second contest. Even then, with a 53,000 lead, Graham didn’t seem to need as much money as before.
Nor were Smith’s tactics at the outset such as to arouse Graham’s followers to the danger. Relatively few Smith advertisements appeared in the papers at first; little radio time was used. Nor was the race issue hit particularly hard. The main emphasis was on “socialism” and “Communism.”
Reports filtered back to Graham’s headquarters that Smith’s advisers were divided as to the wisdom of exploiting the racial issue. Some were said to feel that the chances of overcoming Graham’s lead were so small that it would not do to stoke the fires of racial hatred, in view of all the rancor such a campaign would leave behind. Others felt Graham’s lead could be overcome by an all-out blitz on the race issue in the closing days of the campaign.
Actually, once Smith was willing to consider making use of the racial issue, the logic of the contest left him little choice. In the first primary he got 250,800 votes to 303,600 for Graham, with 58,700 votes going to Bob Reynolds. In the runoff Reynolds announced for Smith, but even if the whole Reynolds vote were to swing to Smith—which did not happen—Smith still needed a heavy vote to win. “Nigger” was the only cry that could bring out that vote.
“Whatever happens, don’t let them put you on the defensive,” Senator Claude Pepper, after his own defeat in May 1950, had warned Graham. As a matter of campaign tactics, the Graham forces probably would have been well advised to jump in with their own attack, if only to knock the Smith forces off schedule. But this was more easily talked of than done. A wealthy corporation lawyer with textile mill interests, Smith was most vulnerable on his conservative economic views. But a really intensive campaign in support of the economic program of the New Deal would have risked alienating Graham’s following among the middle-class and conservative alumni of the University.
To beat off the effects of racial agitation upon labor, a textile worker was put on the air with an eloquent attack on the practice of paying Southern workers less than Northern workers. The Political Action Committee also dug up a photograph of workers at a textile mill “before the coming of Franklin D. Roosevelt” that showed about half of them to have been children. The caption put under the picture talked of fifteen cents an hour pay for a 12-hour day and a 66-hour working week, and asked in heavy type, “Will you go back to this with Willis Smith?” The PAC printed 150,000 copies of this leaflet, and began to circulate it enthusiastically. But when reporters showed it to Graham, he repudiated it, exclaiming, “Neither Mr. Smith nor anyone else can take away the protection the working man has today!” In Shelby County, Graham’s local manager refused to allow the leaflet to be distributed among mill workers.
Given the nature of the Graham coalition—a variety of elements with no common economic interests—it was almost impossible to wage an intensive campaign on economic issues. Had Graham been trailing, greater risks might have been taken. But with a 53,000 lead, the safe campaign strategy seemed to be the strictly defensive one of “not rocking the boat.”
Graham’s first bad break came eight days before the voting. In Sampson County, where campaign manager Jeff Johnson lived, a middle-aged white woman was robbed, dragged through the woods, and clubbed to death by a Negro. A cousin of the dead woman, a friend of Mrs. Johnson, visited every member of the bereaved family and pleaded with them not to blame the incident on Graham. They listened to her quietly, but when the precinct’s ballots in the runoff were counted Smith’s vote had doubled.
Dismaying as this “rape” episode was to Jeff Johnson, it does not seem to have had a significant effect on the voting outside the immediate locality. Graham’s manager in nearby Lenoir County, Albert W. Cowper, a judge o£ the Recorder’s Court, was a true Graham aficionado. As a freshman at Chapel Hill, Cowper had flunked nearly every course and had been about to quit school for good, when Graham persuaded him to stay, and then worked with him regularly at least once a week until he made the honor roll. When the depression forced Cowper to drop out of school, Graham had offered to lend him the money to finish his education.
Worried over a possible stirring up of the race question, Cowper checked his precinct workers daily. Every day he got back the same report: “Graham is a cinch to win”—every day, that is, until the Thursday before the Saturday’s voting. That Thursday, when some residents of Kinston, the Lenoir County seat, unrolled their afternoon paper, out dropped handbills in shrieking type:
BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE
YOU MAY NOT HAVE ANOTHER
DO YOU WANT
NEGROES working beside you, your wife and
daughters in your mills and factories?
NEGROES eating beside you in all public
NEGROES riding beside you, your wife and
your daughters in busses, cabs and trains?
NEGROES sleeping in the same hotels and
NEGROES teaching and disciplining your
children in school?
NEGROES sitting with you and your family at
all public meetings?
NEGROES going to white schools and white
children going to Negro schools?
NEGROES to occupy the same hospital rooms
with you and your wife and daughters?
NEGROES as your foremen and overseers in
That evening one of Cowper’s workers, a filling station operator, telephoned, “It’s going like a brush fire. I can’t stop it.” The man sounded so disturbed that Cowper drove out to see him. For two hours he argued with the man, going over each specific charge and supplying the facts to refute it. When Cowper left, exhausted, he felt the situation had been saved. Not until after the election did he learn that the filling station owner had broken and swung to Smith.
In those last three days—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—one couldn’t pick up a newspaper in North Carolina without seeing an advertisement proclaiming, “The South Under Attack” or “End of Racial Segregation Proposed.” One couldn’t listen to the radio for long without a spot announcement cutting in, “Do you know that 28 per cent of North Carolina’s population is colored?”—or “The Southern working man must not be sacrificed by FEPC!”
Graham’s supporters had made much of the fact that, as a member of Truman’s Civil Rights Commission, he had opposed the majority recommendation to put an end to segregation, and that he was against a compulsory Fair Employment Practices law. These arguments seemed to be a weak alibi in the face of an article which had been published after the first primary by a Negro writer outside the state, and which had been picked up by a North Carolina Negro weekly.
Its crucial paragraph went: “The substantial majority that Frank Graham polled in the recent primary was encouraging from many angles. In the first place Negroes supported Graham although he had to recant from some of his liberal positions, as for example the FEPC. Everybody knows that Dr. Graham is in favor of the FEPC; but he had to back down before the terrific onslaught of his enemies who were doing some deadly gunning for the man’s political life. So long as Frank Graham’s heart is on the right side, Negroes can afford to let him make a ‘strategic retreat’ if by such retreat he can win over those who are a hundred per cent against Negro advance.”
Headlined “Everybody Knows,” this was widely circulated by the Smith forces. Beneath the quotation some Smith advertisements ran the voting results in a “few all-Negro precincts”:
|Raleigh No. 10||493||9|
|Raleigh No. 16||518||18|
|Durham, Pearson School||1,187||8|
|Greensboro No. 5||1,231||12|
|Charlotte No. 2||512||11|
Even more inflammatory were the appeals circulated anonymously, such as those issued by the so-called “Know the Truth Committee.” In some counties handbills were mailed to every registered voter. Elsewhere they were left at filling stations, where farmers like to gather and chat. Photographs of Negro soldiers dancing with white girls in British night clubs were scattered around; other leaflets listed prominent Negroes like Richard Wright and Walter White, calling attention to their white wives. But the main issue stressed in this “whispering campaign” was: “Vote for Graham and six months from now your children will be sitting in Negro schools.” There were reports of school buses being stopped and the children given leaflets for their parents which asked, “Do you want your children sitting next to Negroes?”
The mood thus built up was not unlike that preceding a lynching. A precinct worker in Wilmington telephoned Graham’s manager there and cried hysterically, “Come and take all your literature out of my house! My neighbors won’t talk to me!” Graham stickers came off automobiles as people found it uncomfortable to say they were for him. In Raleigh, an eight-year-old schoolboy who spoke up for Graham was beaten up as a “nigger lover” by other children. A Durham election official, favorable to Graham, was awakened during the night by the jangling telephone. When his wife answered, she was asked, “How would you like a little stewed nigger for breakfast?”
In some counties where the Graham campaigners were routine party hacks, an abrupt urge developed to go fishing. “After all, Graham had a big lead,” explained one. “I didn’t think he needed the votes I could round up. Why should I make enemies of the people I have to live with?”
Appeals to reason were of no avail, as was shown in Beulahville, a tiny trading center for tobacco growers in Duplin County. The town lawyer, Grady Mercer, an alumnus of the University, was an ardent Grahamite. Graham had carried Beulahville handily in the first primary, but afterwards, as the race issue got talked up more and more, he was asked to come to the county in person. One charge being circulated against him was that he had appointed a Negro to West Point. Actually, Graham had given competitive examinations to all eligible youths. A Negro, Leroy Jones, had placed as an alternate, but the appointment itself had gone to a white youth, William Hauser. Graham brought Hauser with him, hoping by this example to show how falsified the whole racial campaign was. When he had finished speaking and left, an angry murmur went through the Beulahville crowd: “Why didn’t he bring the nigger he appointed? Who was he trying to fool, showing us that white boy?”
On the day of the voting the Raleigh News and Observer, edited by Jonathan Daniels, a strong Graham advocate, ran an eight-column streamer across page one: “LIBERALISM, CONSERVATISM VOTE ISSUES TODAY.” That may have seemed like the issue at Graham’s headquarters, but Graham had not made it the issue in his campaign. The “issue” troubling most of the voters was probably reflected in a long-distance telephone call that Graham received on the morning of the voting from a Greensboro textile worker. “I want to vote for you,” the worker told Graham, “but tell me honestly, if I do will my kids have to go to school with Negroes? I don’t want that!”
In Kinston that same morning one man on his way to the polls shouted to a neighbor, “Come on, let’s vote for a white man!” Later that afternoon, in Halifax County, a friend sat down to write a sorrowful note to Jeff Johnson: “I’ve never seen such a mess. . . . The most respected man in town is for Graham but is afraid to open his mouth. . . men are disgusted and won’t vote at all. . . .”
An Analysis of the vote reveals two dramatic reversals from the first primary. Graham dropped 40,000 votes, while Smith gained 30,000. In the rural east, eighteen counties that Graham had won in the first primary swung to Smith. Only nine stuck with Graham. This shift may seem just the old story of uneducated farmers inflamed by the cry of “nigger.” But why hadn’t the racial feeling broken through in the first primary?
That racial bitterness was there all the time would seem clear from an incident in Lenoir County. In the first primary a Negro ran for one of eighteen posts as magistrate, a minor position akin to justice of the peace and paying no salary. After the Negro filed, eighteen white candidates were persuaded to run to make sure he would be beaten. Later, few of these whites even bothered to take office. Strong as this racial feeling was, it did not turn upon Graham in the first primary. Why?
The answer is that in the first primary, various local officials were also being elected. One candidate for the state legislature, a “dry,” was being opposed by local business interests, who feared he might deprive the county seat of its liquor revenue. Fearful of alienating the Graham voters, these business elements had soft-pedaled all talk of race. With the “dry” defeated, the business community came out openly for Smith and encouraged the spread of racial hatred.
That happened throughout the state. In the first primary, with elections for sheriff and other county offices at stake, the local politicos had dampened the racial feeling for fear their local candidates might be singed. Governor Scott was supporting Graham and the county candidates did not want the force of the state administration thrown against them. The bulk of the “Hessians,” as the paid party workers are sometimes called, were held in line by those interested in the local races. With these contests out of the way, the “Hessians” were free to make their deals with the Smith forces, many using the race issue as a cover for their switch. The same “better elements” in the community who had kept the racial lid on in the first primary let it blow off in the runoff.
The second dramatic shift, which has been generally overlooked, came in the cities. Here Graham actually increased his overwhelming pluralities among the Negroes. He suffered a further falling off in the labor vote, but not of decisive proportions. The big “break” against him came in the economically conservative middle class. In Asheville, for example, all four precincts that Dewey won in 1948 had gone for Graham in the first primary. All four swung against Graham in the runoff.
Another of the pro-Dewey precincts that had favored Graham in May but turned away in June was Box 13 in Greensboro. Flanking the Women’s College of North Carolina, it is a semi-suburban residential area, with homes ranging in value between $8,000 and $25,000. After the first primary I found this precinct strongly opposed to Truman and the Fair Deal. All whom I interviewed were ready to vote for Eisenhower on a Republican ticket in 1952. Their support of Graham was not for his economic views, but as a personal tribute to his reputation as the South’s most progressive educator. The Graham workers in the Box 13 precinct actually went at it harder in the runoff than in the primary. But, as two of them, Professor John Bridger and his wife, told me, they found it more difficult now to talk politics. The intensity of the campaigning seemed to make many people irritable, and reluctant to come out and vote.
What shifted this precinct was a middle-class uneasiness over Graham’s economic philosophy plus the insistent drumming on the fear that white and Negro children might have to attend the same schools. FEPC as an issue had not roused strong racial feelings in the middle class, which would not be directly affected by Fair Employment legislation. But the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Texas and Oklahoma cases, threatening the eventual end of segregation in all schools, shocked them.
One worker for Willis Smith had written an eloquent campaign letter picturing the threat to family security in inflationary policies which, she alleged, robbed savings of their value and taxed away so much of one’s earnings. She showed the letter to the wife of a doctor, who had campaigned for Graham in the first primary. The doctor’s wife read it and exclaimed, “That’s a fine letter! It expresses my sentiments exactly.” Then she added, “You know I don’t want my daughter to go to school with Negroes.”
That the racial emotions of “poor whites” in the South are readily inflamed has always been known. The “surprise” in Graham’s defeat was the revelation that the cry of “nigger” could inflame even the well-educated, well-to-do middle class. No longer will it suffice to attribute race prejudice in the South merely to poverty and inadequate education. Frank Graham was defeated not by a foul-mouthed Theodore Bilbo but by a nationally honored lawyer who was chairman of the board of trustees of Duke University. It was not only the “bigots” who turned against “Doctor Frank.”
In Charlotte, Graham’s worst showing came in Myers Park, which is the city’s most fashionable residential area, with its own little theater and art and nature museum. Charlotte’s low vote for Graham probably reflected less racial feeling than economic opinion. The prosperous trading center of the Piedmont Carolinas, containing more than 400 branches of national concerns, Charlotte is easily the most business-minded community in North Carolina. In 1948 both daily newspapers supported Dewey, who got 34 per cent of the vote to 44 per cent for Truman, with 21 per cent going to the Dixiecrats.
In every North Carolina city, the vote against Graham mirrored the Republican-Dixiecrat voting of 1948—so much so that the Graham battle was clearly a continuation of the 1948 struggle and a testing for 1952. In Wilmington, for example, there were two precincts which Dewey had won, and eleven more in which the Dixiecrat-Republican vote had exceeded Truman’s. Graham lost all thirteen. Again, in Guilford County, which includes Greensboro and High Point, Graham lost seventeen precincts, all but four of which had gone for Dewey in 1948. In two of these four, Truman’s vote had lagged behind the combined Republican-Dixiecrat vote, and only in the other two had he won a clear majority.
The parallel with 1948 emerges even more sharply when one studies the defeat of Claude Pepper in Florida by Senator George A. Smathers. All ten Florida counties that Dewey had won were swept by Smathers, as were the twelve precincts Dewey had carried in Jacksonville, all fourteen Dewey precincts in Tampa, and all but two of the twenty-two Dewey precincts in Miami. The exceptions were in Miami Beach, where Jewish neighborhoods had voted against Truman but favored Pepper. In Duval County (Jacksonville), Smathers had a 9,500 plurality. The twelve Dewey precincts alone supplied 8,300 of that lead.
In another thirty-eight precincts in Miami, Tampa, and Jacksonville, the combined Republican-Dixiecrat vote had exceeded Truman’s. Smathers took all but three of these precincts. He also swept the three counties won by Thurmond in 1948. How much of an “upset” was Pepper’s defeat, considering that Truman would have lost Florida—and Tennessee and Virginia too—had the Republicans and Dixiecrats united against him?
In their campaigning neither Willis Smith nor Smathers talked openly of coalition with the Republicans; but a precinct-by-precinct breakdown of their vote makes clear that their campaigns did in fact bring about a merger of the Republican and Dixiecrat vote. “Race” alone did not effect this merger. Packaged in with the racial issue was opposition to a number of other things—to Communism, the CIO, government spending, health insurance, and “the drift towards socialism.” What the “racial” issue did was disintegrate the economic following upon which the liberals relied, while solidifying the economic following of the conservatives.
The emergence of this Dixiecrat-Republican voting coalition in the 1950 primaries must seem a particularly ironic development to Southern liberals, considering how high were their hopes only a few years ago. In 1944, when the Supreme Court opened the white primaries to Negroes, Southern liberals rejoiced in the belief that the means were at last in sight for their winning control of the Democratic party. These hopes were fanned in 1946 when the CIO launched its drive for a million new members in the South.
By 1950, however, the South’s largest union, the Textile Workers of America, was actually weaker than in 1946. This failure of labor’s Southern organizing drive is usually blamed by labor leaders on the Taft-Hartley law. But the election returns indicate that a more basic miscalculation was involved. The spread of new factories in the South has not produced an awakened, militant labor movement, as the labor leaders expected. Instead, the first fruits of increasing industrialism have been the rise of a new urban middle class that is virtually Republican in its sympathies. Since 1940 the Republican presidential vote in the South has increased by 50 per cent. By far the heaviest gains have come in the most urbanized states—Texas, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina—and in the cities of those states. Roanoke, Staunton, and Winchester in Virginia went Republican in 1948, while Alexandria, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville almost did. The Republican tally in Houston and Dallas has more than doubled since 1940. In short, virtually everywhere that new industry has spread in the South, the prestige of business has been enhanced and new support has been won for the political attitudes generally attributed to business.
The dramatic advances made by Negroes in the South in recent years have had a similar conservative political effect. The fact that Negroes have begun to vote in the South in appreciable numbers marks a notable advance. Still, both the Graham and Pepper defeats could be attributed largely to heavy Negro voting that brought on an even heavier anti-Negro outpouring. In Florida during the 1950 primary battle, 31,000 new Negro voters registered, largely as a result of a registration drive organized by the CIO. The anti-Pepper forces, however, used this registration drive as evidence of a plot to overthrow white supremacy. As a result, 89,000 new white voters registered.
Similarly, the opening of the universities of Texas and Oklahoma to Negroes was a stirring victory for them, but, as we have seen, it probably cost Graham his seat in the United States Senate.
Politics in the South, as in other parts of the country, is marked by innumerable conflicting cross-currents. Yet what has been happening there since the war’s end can perhaps be summarized by picturing the South as the arena of two major political battles—the struggle of the Northern Negro to liberalize the status of his Southern cousins against the opposition of the Southern delegation in Congress; and a contest between Northern industry and Northern labor to extend their respective influences southward.
Economically, Northern industry has clearly won. Racially, the Negro has won new rights through the Supreme Court, but it has been at the expense of solidifying white voters against further racial reform and the threatened end of legal segregation.
The hope that the economic and social changes remaking the South would produce a liberal coalition drawing its strength from labor and the new Negro voters has all but vanished. The dominant coalition which has emerged in the South has been that of a rapidly expanding urban middle class united with all those who, for whatever reason, fear the liberalization of the Negro’s status.
For liberals there is one possible consolation in this situation. Both the urban middle class, which has been tending to vote for Republican presidents, and the Southerners who are up in arms against civil rights, are growing increasingly restive within the one-party system. To make their views felt nationally, both these elements are being driven to bolt the Democratic party and ally themselves with the Northern Republicans. Thus, although liberals in the South are everywhere in retreat, the defeats they are suffering could prepare the way for the birth of a genuine two-party politics in Dixie.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Racist Dress Rehearsal for November:The South’s “Conservative Revolution” Tastes Victory
Must-Reads from Magazine
RIP Paulina Płaksej.
It’s only Monday evening, which means Americans face another full week of political and cultural squalor. For an antidote, consider Paulina Płaksej, who died Sunday, aged 93. Our former COMMENTARY colleague Daniella Greenbaum broke news of Płaksej’s death on Twitter, which alerted me (and many others) to her inspiring life and that of her family, Polish Catholics who fed, hid, and rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
Zachariasz and Bronisława Płaksej, Paulina’s parents, moved from Lviv, Ukraine, to Kałusz before the outbreak of the war. There, Zachariasz worked as an accountant at a local mine and developed warm relations with the area’s Jews. Toward the end of 1941, when the Nazis forced the Jews of Kałusz into a newly created ghetto with an eye toward their extermination, Zachariasz and his family “acted as couriers, smuggling notes in and out of the ghetto,” according to the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Soon, assisting persecuted Jews became the family’s main business.
It helped that they resided on the outskirts of town. As Paulina later recounted, “we lived in seclusion and not in the center of the town, so it was very convenient for us. We were surrounded by gardens, orchards, the river was flowing nearby, and there was a slaughterhouse not far away. The Germans rarely visited this place, so our life was peaceful…” Even before the creation of the ghetto, Jewish children would stop by the Płaksej home for a bowl of hot soup and a brief respite from the cruelty of daily life under occupation.
Her father, Paulina recalled, “was a very religious person, and he believed that you should always help a man, your fellow creature, as our religion has it. The Jewish victim was not simply a Jew, but your fellow, a human being, wasn’t he?”
The Płaksejs took extraordinary risks to that end, creating an underground pipeline from the Kałusz ghetto to safety for Jews targeted for liquidation:
The first family to escape [the ghetto] was Sara, Solomon, and their son, Imek. They temporarily hid at Paulina’s house. When it became too dangerous for them to stay there, Zacharias found a safer place for them to hide. He brought Sara, Solomon, and Imek to a trusted friend who was already hiding Jews in a bunker beneath his barn. Later, another Jewish woman, Rozia, escaped from the ghetto and sought out the Plaksej family. They also brought her to the farmer’s bunker. Paulina regularly brought whatever food and supplies were needed. Sara, Solomon, Imek, and Rozia, along with thirteen other Jews, stayed in this bunker for over a year. To this day, the identity of the farmer is not known.
In 1944 Miriam, another inhabitant of the ghetto, learned that the Germans planned to liquidate the ghetto and deport or murder the inhabitants. Miriam asked Zacharias to save her two-year-old daughter, Maja. Zacharias contacted Miriam’s former maid and arranged for her to come rescue Maja. The maid brought a horse and cart, and the Jewish police helped smuggle the little girl out of the ghetto. The maid told her neighbors that this little girl was her daughter who had just returned from living with her grandparents.
Miriam was in one of the last groups of Jews to be deported to Auschwitz. As her group was marched to the train, Miriam quickly took off her armband and joined the crowds in the street. She went straight to the Plaksej house asking for help. They hid her in their wardrobe for a number of months. Zacharias obtained forged papers for her and took her to another village where she would not be recognized as a Jew. There she was picked up as a Pole and sent to a German farm as a forced laborer. After the war, she returned to the maid’s house, picked up her daughter, and reunited with her husband. Due to the efforts of Paulina and her family, all of the Jews they helped survived the war.
The State of Israel in 1987 recognized Paulina and her parents as Righteous Among the Nations. May we never forget these stories, and may we all strive to follow in their footsteps, even and especially amid our contemporary squalor.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: Kavanaugh and Rosenstein.
Can you take what we say about the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh seriously considering we’re conservatives and he’s a conservative? Are we defending him because we are genuinely discomfited by how insubstantial the allegations against him are, or are we doing so because we agree with him ideologically? We explore this on today’s podcast. Give a listen.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
A Trump of their own.
There were many arguments for opposing Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency, but the retort usually boiled down to a single glib sentence: “But he fights.”
Donald Trump could accuse John McCain of bringing dishonor upon the country and George W. Bush of being complicit in the September 11th attacks. He could make racist or misogynistic comments and even call Republican primary voters “stupid”; none of it mattered. “We right-thinking people have tried dignity,” read one typical example of this period’s pro-Trump apologia. “And the results were always the same.”
If you can get over the moral bankruptcy and selective memory inherent in this posture, it has its own compelling logic. Driving an eighteen-wheel truck through the standards of decorum that govern political discourse is certainly liberating. If there is no threshold at which the means discredit the ends, then everything is permitted. That kind of freedom has bipartisan appeal.
Democrats who once lamented the death of decency at Trump’s hands were apparently only troubled by their party’s disparity in this new rhetorical arms race. The opposition party seems perfectly happy to see standards torn down so long as their side is doing the demolition.
This week, with passions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court reaching a crescendo, Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono demonstrated that Democrats, too, are easily seduced by emotionally gratifying partisan outbursts. “They’ve extended a finger,” Hirono said of how Judiciary Committee Republicans have behaved toward Dr. Christine Blasey Ford since she was revealed as the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct as a minor. “That’s how I look at it.”
That’s an odd way to characterize the committee chairman’s offers to allow Dr. Blasey Ford the opportunity to have her story told before Congress in whatever setting she felt most comfortable. Those offers ranged from a public hearing to a private hearing to a staff interview, either publicly or behind closed doors, to even arranging for staffers to interview her at her home in California. Hirono was not similarly enraged by the fact that it was her fellow Democrats who violated Blasey Ford’s confidentiality and leaked her name to the press, forcing her to go public. But the appeal of pugnacity for its own sake isn’t rooted in consistency.
Hirono went on to demonstrate her churlish bona fides in the manner that most satisfies voters who find unthinking animus compelling: rank bigotry.
“Guess who’s perpetuating all these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country,” Hirono continued. “Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing.” The antagonistic generalization of an entire demographic group designed to exacerbate a sense of grievance among members of another demographic group is condemnable when it’s Trump doing the generalizing and exacerbating. In Hirono’s case, it occasioned a glamorous profile piece in the Washington Post.
Hirono was feted for achieving “hero” status on the left and for channeling “the anger of the party’s base.” Her style was described as “blunt” amid an exploration of her political maturation and background as the U.S. Senate’s only immigrant. “I’ve been fighting these fights for a—I was going to say f-ing long time,” Hirono told the Post. The senator added that, despite a lack of evidence or testimony from the accuser, she believes Blasey Ford’s account of the assault over Kavanaugh’s denials and previewed her intention to “make more attention-grabbing comments” soon. Presumably, those remarks will be more “attention-grabbing” than even rank misandry.
This is a perfect encapsulation of the appeal of the fighter. It isn’t what the fight achieves but the reaction it inspires that has the most allure. But those who confuse being provocative with being effective risk falling into a trap. Trump’s defenders did not mourn the standards of decency through which Trump punched a massive hole, but the alt-right and their noxious fellow travelers also came out of that breach. The left, too, has its share of violent, aggressively mendacious, and anti-intellectual elements. They’ve already taken advantage of reduced barriers to entry into legitimate national politics. Lowering them further only benefits charlatans, hucksters, and the maladjusted.
What’s more, the “fire in the belly,” as Hillary Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon euphemistically describes Hirono’s chauvinistic agitation, is frequently counterproductive. Her comments channel the liberal id, but they don’t make Republicans more willing to compromise. What Donald Trump’s supporters call “telling it like it is” is often just being a jerk. No other Republican but Trump would have callously called into question Blasey Ford’s accounting of events, for example. Indeed, even the most reckless of Republicans have avoided questioning Blasey Ford’s recollection, but not Trump. He just says what’s in his gut, but his gut has made the Republican mission of confirming Kavanaugh to the Court before the start of its new term on October 1 that much more difficult. The number of times that Trump’s loose talk prevented Republicans from advancing the ball should give pause to those who believe power is the only factor that matters.
It’s unlikely that these appeals will reach those for whom provocation for provocation’s sake is a virtue. “But he fights” is not an argument. It’s a sentiment. Hirono’s bluster might not advance Democratic prospects, but it makes Brian Fallon feel like Democrats share his anxieties. And, for some, that’s all that matters. That tells you a lot about where the Democratic Party is today, and where the country will be in 2020.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
A lesson from Finland.
High-ranking politicians are entitled to freedom of speech and conscience. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement, but it often is, especially in European countries where the range of acceptable views is narrow–and narrowing. Just ask Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini, who spent the summer fighting off an investigation into his participation at an anti-abortion vigil in Canada. On Friday, Soini survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament over the issue.
“In general, I’m worried that Christianity is being squeezed,” he told me in a phone interview Friday, hours after his colleagues voted 100 to 60 to allow him to keep his post. “There is a tendency to squeeze Christianity out of the public square.”
Soini had long been associated with the anti-immigration, Euroskeptic Finns Party, though last year he defected and formed a new conservative group, known as Blue Reform. Before coming to power, Soini could sometimes be heard railing against “market liberals” and “NATO hawks.” But when I interviewed him in Helsinki in 2015, soon after he was appointed foreign minister, he told me his country wouldn’t hesitate to join NATO if Russian aggression continued to escalate. He’s also a vociferous supporter of Israel.
Through all the shifts of ideology and fortune, one point has remained fixed in his worldview: Soini is a devout Catholic, having converted from Lutheranism as a young man in the 1980s, and he firmly believes in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. “I have been in politics for many years,” he said. “Everyone knows my pro-life stance.” The trouble is that “many people want me to have my views only in private.”
Hence his ordeal of the past few months. It all began in May when Soini was in Ottawa for a meeting of the Arctic Council, of which Finland is a member. At the church he attended for Mass, he spotted a flyer for an anti-abortion vigil, to be held the following evening. He attended the vigil as a private citizen: “I wasn’t performing as a minister but in my personal capacity. This happened in my spare time.”
A colleague posted a photo of the event on his private Twitter page, however, which is how local media in Finland got wind of his presence at the rally. The complaints soon poured into the office of the chancellor of justice, who supervises the legal conduct of government ministers. A four-month investigation followed. Soini didn’t break any laws, the chancellor concluded, but he should have been more circumspect when abroad, even in his spare time.
Soini wasn’t entirely oblivious to the fact that he was treading on sensitive ground. A top diplomat can never quite operate like a private citizen, much as a private citizen can’t act like a diplomat (someone tell John Kerry). Still, does anyone imagine that Soini would land in such hot water if he had attended a vigil for action on climate change? Or one in favor of abortion rights?
“No, no, no. I wouldn’t say so … The Finnish official line is that I should be careful because abortion is legal in Finland and Canada.” So the outrage is issue-specific and, to be precise, worldview-specific. In Nordic countries, especially, the political culture is consensus-based to a fault, and the consensus is that the outcome of the 1960s sexual revolution will never be up for debate. Next door in Sweden, midwives are blacklisted from the profession for espousing anti-abortion views. Ditto for Norwegian doctors who refuse to dispense IUDs and abortifacients on conscience grounds.
The consensus expects ministers to bring their views into line or keep their mouths shut. “This is of course clearly politics,” Soini told me. “I think I have freedom of conscience. I haven’t done anything wrong. This is me practicing my religion.” And the free exercise of religion means having the right to espouse the moral teachings of one’s faith—or it means nothing.