Although I can be best described as an independent conservative, my father was a Republican. He voted for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, Bush and Romney. And with the exception of Barack Obama in 2008, I don’t think he’s ever voted for a Democrat, if he could help it. His logic (in part as he explained it to me one day): All the poor people he knew growing up were Democrats, and all the people who were professionals and had money were Republicans. More seriously though, my father’s Republican Party was actually more of a champion of civil rights than the Democrats.
And if you really want to set the record straight, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would not have passed had it not been for Republicans. That’s right — while the Democrats of today have monopolized the title of champion of civil rights, even though I will argue all their policies do at the end of the day is make life more difficult for minorities than necessary, back in the day, it was the GOP that came to the rescue. Allow me to explain.
To do this right, we have to look at the data and voting records. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on Feb. 10, 1964. The vote total was 290–130. However, when you break those numbers down by party, only 60 percent of Democrats voted for the legislation, and 40 percent of them voted no. On the other side of the aisle, 138 Republicans (80 percent) voted yes, while only 34 members of the Grand Old Party voted against the Civil Rights Act.
When the legislation got to the Senate, a vote was held on June 19, only after the Civil Rights Act sat in limbo for nine days as it was filibustered. And that filibuster was led by Democrats Richard Russell of Georgia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. And instrumental in breaking that filibuster was the Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen from my home state of Illinois. It was the longest filibuster in Senate history, by the way. When the Act finally passed, it was an overwhelmingly affirmative vote of 73–27. More than two-thirds of Democrats voted in favor of the act (46 yes, 21 no). But the Republican support in favor was even greater, with 27 yes and only six no votes.
And by the way, did you know a Hoosier was instrumental in getting that Civil Rights legislation passed? No, I am not talking about former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh, who did play a role in moving the legislation forward. I am talking about Indiana Congressman Charles Halleck of Lafayette. He was the House Republican Minority Leader at the time, and he and then-President Lyndon Johnson did a lot of negotiating and horse trading to get enough Republican votes on board to get the Civil Rights Act passed.
I know some of you may find all of this somewhat shocking, but history is kind of a funny thing when you study it and pay attention to the details and don’t just believe the hype.
What’s unfortunate is the national Republican Party of today is nothing like the GOP of the past. Remember, it was Republicans who were responsible for the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments, which ended slavery, made Blacks citizens and guaranteed their right to vote. Republicans were responsible for the passage of anti-lynching laws. They passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the precursor to later civil rights legislation. And even affirmative action as we know it had it roots under Richard Nixon; it was known as the Philadelphia Plan and required federal contractors to commit to hiring minorities.
I will be the first one to say my Republican friends and some of the rhetoric at the national level is a bit over the top, to put it mildly. With that said, if you go back in history, you will see the GOP did a lot more for civil rights and the advancement of African-Americans than many of you are probably prone to believe.
How I miss my father’s Republican Party.