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, was that 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 that all their policies do at the end of the day is make life more difficult for minorities), 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 was 289-126, with 153 Democrats and 136 Republicans voting “yes.”
Ninety-one Democrats voted against the measure as well as 35 Republicans. A total of 12 members either voted “present” or didn’t vote at all. No matter how you break it down, a higher percentage of Republicans voted for civil rights than Democrats.
After the legislation advanced to the Senate, it sat in limbo during a nine-day filibuster that culminated with a vote on June 19. That filibuster—the longest in Senate history, by the way--was led by Democrats Richard Russell of Georgia and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina. Instrumental in breaking that filibuster was the Senate minority leader, Everett Dirksen, from my home state of Illinois. When the act finally passed, it was on an overwhelming vote of 73-27. More than two-thirds of Democrats voted in favor of the act—46 yes, 21 no. But the Republican support was even greater—27 yes, six no.
And by the way, did you know a Hoosier was instrumental in getting the 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 Rep. Charles Halleck of Lafayette. He was the House Republican minority leader. He and 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 might find all of this somewhat shocking, but history is 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 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 legislation. And even affirmative action as we know it had its roots under Richard Nixon. It was known as the Philadelphia Plan, which required federal contractors to commit to hiring minorities.
I will be the first to say to my Republican friends that some of the rhetoric at the national level is a bit over the top, to put it mildly. That said, if you go back in history, you will see the GOP did 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.•
Shabazz is an attorney, radio talk show host and political commentator, college professor and stand-up comedian. Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.