As we have noted before, David Barton’s telling of the history of the fight for racial equality in America always mysteriously seems to stop right around the mid-1960s, right before the rise of the GOP’s “Southern Strategy.” Barton has written books and produced DVDs that claim to “set the record straight” on the role that both major political parties played in ending slavery, passing civil rights laws, and pushing for equality but his materials always portray Democrats are the enemies of black equality and conveniently never seem to make it beyond 1964.
On his radio program today, Barton sought to answer a question for a listener who wondered why, today, the Democrats are believed to be the party that fought to end slavery and for civil rights while the Republicans are believed to be the party that opposed such things.
The simple answer is “the Southern Strategy” and the fundamental shift that took place politically in the wake of civil rights gains when Democrats lost the support of white Southern voters as the party began to support civil rights in the 1960s and the GOP sought to win the support of those disaffected voters by appealing to them on contentious racial issues:
In 1968, George Wallace ran as a third-party candidate against Nixon and Humphrey, on an explicitly segregationist platform. Humphrey had been the main champion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the Senate; Nixon, while no civil rights activist, rejected an overtly racist platform. Feeling abandoned by both parties, Southern white racists flocked to Wallace’s cause, winning him the Deep South states of Ark., La., Miss., Ala. and Ga.
Political analyst and Nixon campaigner Kevin Phillips, analyzing 1948-1968 voting trends, viewed these rebellious Southern voters as ripe for Republican picking. In The Emerging Republican Majority (Arlington House, 1969), he correctly predicted that the Republican party would shift its national base to the South by appealing to whites’ disaffection with liberal democratic racial and welfare policies. President Nixon shrewdly played this “Southern strategy” by promoting affirmative action in employment, a “wedge” issue that later Republicans would exploit to split the Democratic coalition of white working class and black voters.
Barton, of course, completely ignores this basic history and instead blames it all on miseducation; specifically the idea that Democrats refuse to allow schools to teach the real history that it was Democrats who started the Ku Klux Klan, opposed civil rights laws, supported slavery, and defended segregation.
“In the Sixties, it was called the Solid Democrat South,” Barton said. “Every southern state was solidly Democrat and that is what the Democrats counted on for every presidential election. Not the New England areas, they counted on the Solid Democrat South and there is no way that Democrat legislators and Democrat boards of education and everything else are going to let textbooks come out with they’re the ones who started the Klan, they’re the ones who violated all the civil rights, they’re the ones who did the Black Codes … They’re not going to have that, so that’s what happens when you let history become something political instead of simply telling the good, the bad, and the ugly”:
This is rather ironic given that Barton’s preferred version of history is entirely political, in that he only wants to tell the part of history that portrays Democrats as the party of slavery, segregation, and discrimination while routinely omitting and ignoring anything that does not further his agenda.