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FW: Review: Stone on Frederickson and Cochran, Dixiecrat Revolt etc

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..relevant to both current news and Alabama history!!--aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: Margaret Breashears [mailto:mbr253@airmail.net] Sent: Monday,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 16, 2002
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      fyi..relevant to both current news and Alabama history!!--aj wright //
      ajwright@...


      -----Original Message-----
      From: Margaret Breashears [mailto:mbr253@...]
      Sent: Monday, December 16, 2002 9:34 AM
      To: H-SAWH@...
      Subject: Review: Stone on Frederickson and Cochran


      From: "H-Net Reviews" <books@...>
      To: <H-REVIEW@...>
      Sent: Sunday, December 15, 2002 9:02 PM
      Subject: Stone on Frederickson and Cochran


      H-NET BOOK REVIEW
      Published by H-Pol@... (July, 2002)

      Kari Frederickson. _The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid
      South, 1932-1968_. Chapel Hill and London: University of North
      Carolina Press, 2001. x + 311 pp. Illustrations, notes,
      bibliography, index. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 0-8078-2594-8; $18.95
      (paper), ISBN 0-8078-4910-3.

      Augustus B. Cochran III. _Democracy Heading South: National Politics
      in the Shadow of Dixie_. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2001.
      x + 307 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $29.95 (cloth), ISBN
      0-7006-1089-8.

      Reviewed for H-Pol by R. Phillip Stone <stonerp@...>,
      Archivist, Wofford College

      Nationalizing the South's Politics

      The end of one-party rule and the rise of the Republican Party in
      the American South has had a marked effect on national politics, and
      as a result, the study of southern politics has become a veritable
      cottage industry. Historians have studied the remarkable changes in
      the South's society, its economy, and its relationship with the rest
      of the country, and political scientists have examined the
      structural and institutional shifts in the region's politics. These
      two works being reviewed seek to explain a portion of this story, as
      Kari Frederickson examines the role that the Dixiecrats played in
      fracturing the Solid South and Augustus B. Cochran III draws some
      parallels between southern politics in the Jim Crow era and national
      political conditions of the late twentieth century.

      Most readers are familiar with the story of the 1948 presidential
      campaign and the Dixiecrats' role in that election. Frederickson
      goes beyond the traditional story of the election to explore the
      motives of the Dixiecrats, their campaign strategy, and the
      longer-term repercussions of their bolt from the Democratic Party.
      "The Dixiecrats," she argues, "were a reactionary protest
      organization comprised of economically conservative, segregationist
      southern Democrats who sought to reclaim their former prestige and
      ideological prominence in a party that had moved away from them" (p.
      5). Predominantly from the South's black belt counties, these
      individuals saw the Democratic Party's gradual movement toward
      supporting civil rights for African-Americans as a threat to their
      political control in their states and their influence in national
      politics. Moreover, Frederickson argues, black belt whites were
      uncomfortable with the increasing pace of social and economic change
      in the years following World War II.

      Frederickson begins by summarizing southern reactions to the New
      Deal, emphasizing both the conservative nature of the region's
      political leaders and a growing grassroots movement that supported
      economic and electoral reform. She traces the increased racial
      tensions that arose during World War II. The growing pressure on
      the part of African-Americans for voting and other civil rights, the
      return of war veterans of both races to the South, and the rise of a
      new group of political leaders combined to make southern social
      relations ever more tense. The emergence of civil rights in the
      1948 presidential election proved to be the spark that destabilized
      the whole system.

      The next three chapters form the core of the book, as they detail
      the events leading up to the Dixiecrat bolt from the 1948 Democratic
      Convention and the ensuing presidential campaign. President
      Truman's endorsement of many proposals in _To Secure These Rights_,
      the report of the President's Committee on Civil Rights, came
      scarcely a week before a previously scheduled meeting of the
      southern governors. While unified in their anger at Truman, most of
      the governors refused to commit to any revolt against the national
      party (p. 79). Mississippi and Alabama Democrats took the lead in
      supporting action against the national Democrats. The more they
      resisted, Frederickson finds, the more the nascent Dixiecrats
      discovered how disunited southerners were on the question of
      charting their own course away from the Democratic Party (p. 117).

      The Dixiecrats emerged from their Birmingham convention with
      candidates for President and Vice President, but there was still
      confusion about the wisdom of their action. Some of the principals
      in formulating early strategy, including Arkansas Governor Ben
      Laney, felt that the best way to defeat "the civil rights plank was
      through the state Democratic organizations, not a third party" (p.
      138) The candidates could not even agree on whether they were
      nominated for President and Vice President or as Wright claimed, men
      who were "recommended to the Democratic parties in the various
      states as men suitable..." for election (p. 139). Their immediate
      challenge was to organize a campaign and secure a place on the
      ballot in each state.

      Frederickson argues that from the beginning, a clean sweep of the
      South by the Dixiecrats was unlikely. In chapter 5, she analyzes
      the political situation in most of the states where the Dixiecrats
      made a serious campaign, outlining the conditions in each that
      helped determine the outcome in that state. As their campaign got
      underway, the Dixiecrats found that the system their ancestors had
      helped create at the end of the Populist era worked against them in
      1948 as they sought to take over their states' Democratic parties.
      Within each state, the Dixiecrats wanted to be listed as the
      Democratic Party nominee. Where the Dixiecrat faction controlled
      the state Democratic Party machinery, Strom Thurmond and Fielding
      Wright took the place of Harry Truman and Alben Barkley on the
      Democratic ticket. However, in most southern states, the Dixiecrats
      did not control the party machinery, and in those states, Dixiecrats
      had to secure an independent spot on the ballot. They had to spend
      valuable resources in this effort, and additionally, they had to
      convince voters in those states to vote for someone who was not on
      the Democratic ticket (p. 167). Frederickson describes these
      battles in some detail, recognizing that the interpretation and
      enforcement of political rules is an important structural aspect of
      the story.

      The campaign was difficult for other reasons, not the least of which
      was the presidential candidate. "Thurmond's love of the campaign
      trail," Frederickson argues, "arose from political egocentrism
      rather than a desire to build a viable and lasting political
      movement" (p. 170). Frederickson argues that Thurmond did not take
      well to being managed, and that in 1948 he was not quite the "poster
      boy for white supremacy" for which he later gained a reputation (p.
      170). She argues, persuasively, that Thurmond was more of a
      pro-development, good-government politician who espoused a different
      brand of conservatism than the Mississippi and Alabama Dixiecrats.
      Thurmond recognized that it would be difficult to formulate a
      broader conservative platform that went beyond race, yet
      Frederickson argues that he attempted to develop one. And the
      language that Thurmond used foreshadowed the combination of
      segregation, anti-communism, and distrust of big government that
      would gel in the 1960s (p. 171). In terms of the development of
      southern political language for the last half of the twentieth
      century, this may be the most significant point in the book.

      After the Democratic victory in 1948, national Democrats and
      southern Democrats who had not bolted the party were left to decide
      how to treat their wayward brethren. With Truman's re-election came
      a Democratic congressional victory, which returned many rebellious
      southerners to powerful committee chairmanships. Not surprisingly,
      none of the bolters were punished for fear that attempts at
      retribution would boomerang on the loyalists (p. 189). Frederickson
      concludes with a chapter analyzing presidential politics in the
      South in the twenty years after the 1948 election. The South during
      these years presented anything but a solid front to the rest of the
      country. While Strom Thurmond quickly retreated from the party and
      refused to remain its titular leader, others wanted to keep their
      options open. Ultimately, Frederickson concludes that the 1948
      election marked the end of the South's allegiance to the Democratic
      Party and launched a period of wild swings in black belt voting
      patterns.

      One of the more intriguing arguments that Frederickson presents is a
      gendered interpretation of the Dixiecrat movement. Examining the
      political rhetoric in a number of their speeches, she finds they
      used "familial metaphors and gendered scenarios to play to the
      deep-seated fears and paranoia of white southerners..." (p. 96).
      Southern whites had represented (at least in their own minds) the
      masculine group within the Democratic Party, but increasingly, they
      came to see themselves as powerless and unwanted "red-headed
      step-children" or "illegitimate children" (p. 99). The Dixiecrats
      also viewed themselves as the abused wife in the Democratic
      marriage, as Frederickson demonstrates by including one group's
      adaptation of a song about wife-beating, "Slap us down again, Pres."
      (p. 99). For this reason, Strom Thurmond made an attractive
      candidate, as Frederickson notes, his persona combining "a political
      outsider's fighting rhetoric with personal sexual potency" (p. 102).
      In other words, for a group of white southern men concerned about
      their waning power, Strom Thurmond was a dose of political Viagra.

      It seems that politicians like Strom Thurmond, James F. Byrnes, and
      many of their close associates in South Carolina were really
      proto-Republicans. Perhaps this is more visible in hindsight, but
      when they were "cut free from the moorings," as Frederickson
      suggests, they were looking for some political organization to lead
      (p. 217). South Carolina's Democratic Party was dominated by the
      Barnwell Ring, which hailed from the lowcountry black belt. While
      segregationist in outlook, they were mostly Democratic loyalists
      bent on controlling the state for the benefit of their small
      counties. By the early 1950s, there was no room for Thurmond (who
      many Barnwell Ring members disliked) in the state's Democratic
      leadership. His 1954 write-in victory in a U.S. Senate race was,
      even more than his Dixiecrat bid for president, his declaration of
      independence from the Democratic Party. While Frederickson
      demonstrates some of the opposition of white liberals and
      African-Americans to Thurmond's candidacy, she omits the opposition
      of many leading South Carolina Democratic politicians to Thurmond.

      Augustus Cochran's _Democracy Heading South_ starts with the claim
      that southern politics of the Jim Crow era and modern American
      politics have a number of parallels. His principal argument is that
      America's political and electoral institutions "for all sorts of
      complicated and interrelated reasons, are coming increasingly to
      resemble the irrational and undemocratic politics of the old Solid
      South" (p. 2). He defines southern politics in the Jim Crow era as
      a system of one-party domination, meaningless elections,
      anti-democratic rule by a group of elites, and manipulation by those
      men to preserve white supremacy. Recent political trends throughout
      the country, Cochran argues, have shown an "absence of healthy party
      competition, low participation in politics, and racialized
      campaigns..." (p. 3).

      Cochran devotes the first portion of the book to an exploration of
      southern political history. He relies heavily on the work of V. O.
      Key, using _Southern Politics in State and Nation_ as the basis for
      much of his analysis. He argues, as did Key, that "politics is the
      South's number one problem," as it was at the root of all the other
      problems.[1] Cochran takes this a step further, arguing that
      "Politics is now the number one problem of the United States" (p.
      22). In the second chapter, he traces the creation of a system that
      saw black belt whites take control of southern politics and exclude
      large numbers of potential voters from participating in the
      political process. He describes a system that was at the same time
      authoritarian and disorganized. As a result, politics focused on
      personalities, and on occasions where politics focused on issues, it
      was only in the most general way possible. Issueless, party-less
      campaigns meant that voters could not hold politicians responsible
      for what few campaign promises they made once they were in office,
      Cochran argues. This undemocratic region, he concludes, was "a
      plague on national political life," as it undermined the nation's
      moral position abroad and distorted party competition at home (p.
      49).

      Cochran argues that since the Civil Rights movement, a "dual
      convergence" has taken place, where both north and south have
      adopted attributes of the other's political systems. This has been
      accomplished partly by migration, partly by economic change, partly
      by educational improvements, and partly by political changes
      surrounding the Second Reconstruction. He examines two states,
      North Carolina and Georgia, as examples of the South's move to
      Republicanism. By the early 1990s, before the 1994 Republican
      Revolution, Cochran argues that the South had experienced a
      "split-level realignment," or perhaps a de-alignment, where
      Republicans won races at the top of the ticket and Democrats at the
      local level (pp. 83, 143).

      The second part of the book explores trends in recent American
      politics. From the beginning, Cochran does not suggest that the
      "southernization" of American politics has come about because of the
      increased number of southerners in leadership positions in the
      federal government; he suggests this is a symptom rather than a
      cause. It seems as though he blames the system of money, marketing,
      and media for the problems in our political system (p. 147). He
      argues that politicians outside the South adopted racialized themes
      in their campaign speeches (p. 164). National politics moved
      rightward, and Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton, Cochran
      suggests, adopted many "Republican" positions while in office. He
      observes the disappointment and frustration that liberals feel
      because of this (p. 176). Cochran concludes with the observation
      that the roots of democracy must be nurtured, for otherwise, the
      South's past may become America's future. "The substance of
      democracy can be lost even while the trappings of democracy are
      retained," he writes (p. 205). The final chapter is a call for a
      more participatory, deliberative, responsible, popular, and
      organized democracy.

      While Cochran makes a number of interesting arguments, this book
      seems to take the form of an extended opinion piece. The book,
      while a good summary of the writings of political scientists and
      journalists about American politics, contains little in the way of
      statistical or documentary evidence to support his arguments. He
      argues that both the Jim Crow South and modern America share a
      narrow electoral base, but a modern American's decision to abstain
      from voting is quite a different thing from barring an
      African-American from the polls before the civil rights movement.
      It is hard to see how the comparison is useful, though I understand
      that the effect of both situations is to limit voter participation
      (p. 157).

      Cochran passes up an opportunity to discuss the effects of
      suburbanization on southern and national politics. Perhaps he felt
      it was outside the scope of his book, but it seems that the
      suburbanization of American politics is a trend that transcends
      region. Many of the southern Republicans he mentions most
      prominently, including Newt Gingrich, Bob Barr, Tom DeLay, and Dick
      Armey, hail not from traditional rural southern districts, but from
      the suburbs of the South's major urban centers. In fact, suburban
      Atlanta's trio of Gingrich, Barr, and John Linder, as well as
      Dallas's Armey, were all born outside of the South. Seeing how both
      parties target suburban voters in their campaigns, and an analysis
      of how the growth of a southern suburban middle class affected
      campaigning in the South, could have fit within the scope of his
      book.

      The book also contains a number of small errors, either of
      identification (for example, he refers to Okalahoma congressman J.
      C. Watts as J. W. Watt on page 181) or of chronology (on page 148 he
      refers to the Campaign Reform Act of 1972 when I think he probably
      means the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act, passed after
      Watergate).

      Both of these books examine how southern politics and political
      change are reflected in the development of modern American politics,
      and as such they have some similarities. Both books raise serious
      questions about the viability of the concept of the "solid south."
      Frederickson's detailed explanation of political conditions in
      several states shows a fluid situation in many of them, with
      shifting alliances and factional infighting for control of the
      Democratic Party and of state government. What makes the Solid South
      solid, it seems, is that its representatives in Congress tried to
      present a united front in Washington.

      Both authors express degrees of disappointment with certain aspects
      of southern politics.[2] As she discusses the rejection of
      challenges from various African-American and liberal white delegates
      by the Democratic National Convention's credentials committee,
      Frederickson says "party leaders set the tone for the postwar era by
      squandering this opportunity to strike a blow against oppression in
      the South" (p. 119). It seems unlikely that the Democratic
      Convention could have been expected to take any other action;
      considering the south's visceral reaction to Truman's relatively
      moderate position on civil rights, a decision to seat opposing (and
      black) delegations would have driven even more southern voters away
      from the Democrats.

      Likewise, Cochran's book clearly expresses his disappointment with
      the way that modern southern and American politics has developed.
      He forthrightly states in the book's introduction that his
      "political values color the points" he makes, and that he was not
      willing to disguise them in search of a "value free sense of
      objectivity" (p. 4).

      While the 1948 race has become something of a favorite for
      historians and journalists to recount because of Truman's surprising
      come-from-behind victory and because of his "whistle-stop" train
      campaign, perhaps it is more important as an early example of a
      modern political campaign. Thurmond's speeches are great examples of
      how to attack an opponent, and many of them sound like speeches
      other southern Republicans have given in recent years. Perhaps
      Thurmond realized more quickly than most southern politicians that
      the combination of anti-communism with other wedge issues could be a
      potent campaign tool.

      Both these books demonstrate that the study of southern political
      history continues to thrive and can contribute further to the
      understanding of modern American society. In particular,
      Frederickson presents a picture of southern politics that is
      complicated, differs from state to state, and reflects trends that
      we today may observe in our own political system.

      Notes

      [1]. V. O. Key, _Southern Politics in State and Nation_ (New York:
      Knopf, 1949), p. 3.

      [2]. David L. Carlton, "Review of Numan V. Bartley, _The New South,
      1945-1980_," H-South, H-Net Reviews, March, 1997. URL:
      http://www.h-net.msu.edu/reviews/showrev.cgi?path=14684858516199.

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      H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses
      contact the Reviews editorial staff: hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.
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