Yesterday, 30- members of the Democratic National Committee decided that it would seat Florida’s delegation to the party convention, but that each delegate would get only half a vote. Alcee Hastings says he will boycott the convention.
Back in 1968, at its convention in Chicago, the Democratic Party similarly dismissed the voters of several Southern states. In those days, the conventions were carried live on network television, so we got to see this happen. First, the galleries were packed with non-delegates. Most of them appeared to be African-American. Then the chair called for a voice vote on whether to refuse to seat the legal delegations from the states. I could clearly see the people in the galleries, who were not delegates, shouting their “votes” against seating. The Georgia delegation asked for a roll call vote of actual delegates, but the chair refused to recognize the head of the delegation, and refused to take a roll call vote. The legal Georgia delegation was replaced by a much more liberal group led by Julian Bond, of all people. The fix was obviously in.
For folks who don’t know, the South was solidly Democrat back then. People talk about Nixon’s Southern strategy – to lure white voters into the Republican Party. Nixon’s strategy worked because the Democrats first had kicked these people out of the Democratic Party.
The history is a lot more complicated than this. It starts 20 years earlier, for one thing. Southern whites started to leave the Democratic party in 1948 when the convention adopted a civil rights plank in the platform. Second, the specific problems with the Georgia delegation in 1968 were the direct result of the promise made at the 1964 convention that state delegations could no longer exclude blacks. The 1968 convention was an explosion, but it was an explosion with a twenty-year-long fuse–twenty years in which the Democratic party had prodded state party oganizations to reflect the diversity of all the Democratic voters in their states. Yes, the Democratic party made rules and then it enforced them. But it wasn’t just southern delegations that felt the force of those rules–the Illinois delegation was rejected at the 1972 convention.
Thanks for commenting, Dean. I lived in Georgia at the time, so I can comment best on that state.
First let’s deal with 1948. While it’s popular to believe that people in Georgia began to pull away from the Democratic party in that year, election results don’t show it. Harry Truman got almost 265,000 votes to only 86,000 for the Dixiecrats. Georgia was still a firmly Democratic state.
Georgia in 1968 was in the midst of a big power shift – the WWII generation was coming to political power and the old segregationists (the Dixiecrats) were on their way out. Lester Maddox may have been governor, but he was appointed by the legislature, not elected by the people.
Blacks were represented in the Georgia delegation in 1968 – just not the right one, i.e. Julian Bond.
As for the party following the rules, packing the galleries with non-delegates who shouted voice “votes” was certainly not following the rules.
As a result, the new, politically powerful generation felt excluded. Although late in seeing they had a role in civil rights, the young white middle class was finally on board to make changes. When the Democrats made them feel unwelcome, they simply made additional changes and left the party. Remember the Democratic party in the South was the party of segregation, not the Republicans.
Additionally, in 1966 Lester Maddox, a Democrat, had finished second to Bo Callaway, a Republican, in the governor’s race. However, another Democrat, Ellis Arnal, had run a write-in campaign that kept anyone from getting 50% plus one vote for the office. The Democrat legislature appointed Maddox as governor. This enraged many Georgians, and by 1968 they were in the mood to throw out the old legislators.
All of this combined to make a huge change in the political makeup of the state. I’m not sure I see such a change in Illinois.