The Unknown History Of Civil Rights
By Wynton Hall
Black History Month is about informing citizens of the hurdles and heroes of America’s climb toward civil rights and equality. How interesting, then, that so many race-related political myths continue to be perpetuated by Democrats who know better.
Consider the recent fracas over Senator Hillary Clinton’s contention that President Lyndon Johnson was the driving force behind the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. As any fair examination of history reveals, a large share of the legislative credit for the bill’s passage must go to that other senator from Illinois—Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen.
Just look at the historical record. As Lyndon Johnson told Hubert Humphrey: "Now you know that bill can't pass unless you get Ev[erett] Dirksen.” Indeed, LBJ biographer Robert Caro notes that prior to 1957, Johnson “had never supported civil rights legislation—any civil rights legislation,” including anti-lynching legislation. His private behavior toward blacks was appalling. Robert Parker, LBJ’s longtime black employee and limousine chauffeur, claims that Johsnon blasted him daily with a blizzard of bigoted slurs. And even as LBJ was being praised by liberals for his appointment of Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court, behind closed doors LBJ’s cynical brand of “identity politics” became clear. As presidential historian Robert Dallek recounts, LBJ explained his decision to a staff member by saying, “"Son, when I appoint a nig—r to the court, I want everyone to know he's a nig—r."
Still, despite his record and rhetoric, LBJ fought hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But those he had to fight against were Democrats, not Republicans. Democrats like former Klansman Senator Robert C. Byrd and others launched a filibuster to kill the Civil Rights bill. The chances of stopping them seemed bleak. Never in the history of the United States Senate had members mustered enough votes to stop a filibuster (a procedure known as “cloture” that requires 67 votes to invoke) on a civil rights bill.
So the Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen set out to get the votes necessary to defeat the filibuster. On June 9, 1964, the night before the historic cloture vote, the 68 year old Republican stayed up late into the night typing a speech on twelve sheets of Senate stationery that every American should know but that few do. The next day, Senator Everett Dirksen delivered his oration on the floor of the U.S. Senate just minutes before the final vote. The final tally: 71 to 29, with 27 of the 33 Republicans voting to defeat the Democrat-led filibuster.
Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield said, “This is his [Dirksen] finest hour.