Sunday, September 12, 2010


The transposition of the Democratic and Republican Parties:

In the 1940’s and early 50’s the main political power in the south was the Democratic Party. My grandmother’s sister was married to Fielding Wright who was governor of the state of Mississippi from 1946 until 1952. Even though politics was far from anything I was concerned with it existed in my peripheral world. President Truman had desegregated the military, and the heavy southern political players of that day were concerned about a possible move to desegregate the south. In 1948 they came together in a common effort to oppose racial integration and to retain Jim Crow laws and the southern racial segregated status-quo. Fielding Wright, Mississippi Senator John Stennis, Mississippi Senator Allen Eastland, Louisiana’s Russell B. Long and South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond were among the movers and shakers of this movement. They decided that if the Democratic Party introduced a platform of integration in their 1948 convention, they would break away and form a third party.

As expected, Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota made a speech urging the Party to adopt an anti-segregationist plank, and thirty-five southern members walked out of the convention.

The States’ Rights Democratic Party (Dixiecrats) was formed with a party slogan of “Segregation Forever!” The party ran Strom Thurmond for president and Fielding Wright for vice-president. On Election Day, the Thurman-Wright ticked carried Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina, receiving 1,169,021 popular votes and 39 electoral votes.

The defeat of the Dixiecrats was the defining point in which disenchanted southern Democrats begin to change party affiliation. Over the next ten years most southern Christian Democrats were assimilated into the Republican Party

It is a remarkable change when you think about it. The Republican Party (once the Party of Lincoln and champion of human rights) is now the party of the financial elite, southern Christian fundamentalist and covert racist, while the Democratic Party is the party of the middle class, the ethnic and the poor.

That Ol'Time Religion
When I graduated from high school in 1959, Mississippi was still segregated and the attitudes of the white people were to keep it that way. The problem was more than just racial stereotyping. Much of the prejudice and intolerance came from That Old Time Religion.  If you have ever seen the movie Inherit the Wind then you have seen a snapshot of the religious influence in the south during my childhood.  

Religion was everything in the south in the 1940-50’s; and, even today, like a cognitive black hole, it doesn’t permit the light of reason and common sense to exist. In the south of my childhood religious affiliation determined your social status. I was taught to believe that the “better” people attended the Episcopal Church (my grandmother was Episcopalian,) people of mediocrity were Methodist, and the Southern Baptist existed for the not too bright lower class. Any other religions attracted only white trash. Protestant religions, of course, were the only ones that counted.   Segregation was the covert connection between the churches and the KKK.   The Klan professed protection of white supremacy and Christianity - many members of the community were Klan members or sympathizers. 

This was the religious indoctrination that was subtly proposed among my family. I am sure that parents belonging to different denominations adjusted the spectrum to their affiliation.

The majority of the white people in Rolling Fork were Southern Baptist. The Baptist added extra commandments such as women shall not wear make-up, and dancing is a sin. They were constantly looking for sin in everything. On Sunday you could hear the Baptist preacher shouting a block away from the church. Even though the black churches were also Southern Baptist (churches were segregated) the white Baptist knew that the “Negro Baptist” would not go to the same heaven as the good church going white people.

As you might guess, I am not a big proponent of religion. But, I find the fundamentalist of any religion scary, and the Southern Baptist surely qualifies as fundamentalist. These people refuse logic, deny science and reject common sense. The only truth that exists in their world is their tunnel view of biblical interpretation. Their view is rigid, never changing. People with different views are their enemies. Change is their enemy. They are entrenched against change. They live to declare enemies.

A trait of the fundamentalist congregation is their willingness to follow without question. This makes them easily manipulated by charismatic people willing to pay lip service to their beliefs.

For the white people of Mississippi politics was next in importance to church. The easily manipulated fundamentalist sects, who pervaded the south, gave rise to the colorful old time southern politicians. Some of these men like Earl Long of Louisiana are legendary. I feel fortunate to remember some of the last of the old time southern politicians.

Before television enabled politician to get in your home, men running for office had to ‘stump.’ They would travel around from town to town and speak to any group of people willing to listen. Back then the old time political campaigns often consisted of fried chicken and speeches on the court house lawn – for white voters. (Note: a manipulated literacy test prevented most black people from voting.)

Bigoted politicians and their fundamentalist constituency made integration of the South a difficult policy to carry out. Integration brought an end to Southern Good Old Boy politics.

When I graduated from high school in 1959 the south was still segregated, we were not at war and the Cultural Revolution of the young people had not begun.

But, the south was stepping into the era of southern, religious inspired racial mania aimed at keeping the segregated status quo through violence and intimidation of the black community.   The racial violence that was to ensue during the 1960's was the results of white fundamentalists southerners inability to deal with the reality that the time of white supremacy in the south was at an end. 

Today, the signs at Tea Party rallies declaring "We Want Our Country Back" indicate the seeds of racism and religious intolerance are still alive and well among a constant percentage of our population.  These "Tea Baggers" are unable to deal with a black president and a growing multi-cultural society.  Their dream is of a white Christian America, moving toward a Christian theocracy.  

On my next post I will continue with memories of a alien teen growing up in the Mississippi Delta and the defined path to gender identity.

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COMMENT: Ben Franklin said, "I imagine a man must have a good deal of vanity who believes, and a good deal of boldness who affirms, that all doctrines he holds are true, and all he rejects are false."