New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, a liberal Republican and presidential hopeful, put considerable pressure on his rival Richard Nixon to include support a civil rights plank in the 1960 GOP party platform. Nixon reluctantly agreed. (Photo from http://www.emiliogrossi.com/portfolio1.htm).
In the United States Senate, Lyndon Johnson acquired skills as a consummate deal maker, a talent he would need to steer major civil rights bills to passage as president. (Photo from http://rolexdiamond.blogspot.com/2011/07/rolex-president-lyndon-johnson.html).
SNCC stages a sit-in at the Tottie House diner in Atlanta, Ga., in 1963. (Photo from http://fsrn.org/audio/sncc-anniversary-marked-documenting-early-years-civil-rights-movement/6556).
Lyndon Johnson had long felt like an unwanted interloper, and rankled that some Democrats saw him as an illegitimate heir to the Kennedy throne. Thus, Johnson hoped that the 1964 Democratic National Convention that summer in Atlantic City would be his coronation, an untarnished celebration of that year’s many legislative accomplishments. Unfortunately, in spite of movement in the direction of expanded black civil rights, the signs loomed of a national white backlash against reform legislation, and the atmosphere threatened to spoil the Democratic celebrations. George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama, entered the Democratic presidential primaries and carried 34 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 30 percent in Indiana, and a shocking 43 percent in Maryland. When Wallace’s insurgent campaign failed to unseat Johnson, many of these voters began drifting to Republican nominee Barry Goldwater, who portrayed civil rights laws as the intrusion of a growing and increasingly tyrannical federal government into states’ rights. Rioting in Harlem and other American cities in the summer of 1964 provoked white anger and increased Johnson’s fear of a challenge on the right.
The Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party Convention State Convention in Jackson in the summer of 1964. (Photo form http://www.crmvet.org/images/imgfs.htm).
Hamer and the other delegates refused to play along and instead presented testimony to the credentials committee on the violent and corrupt oppression of black voting rights in Mississippi. With television networks broadcasting the testimony, Hamer related how she had been beaten in a Mississippi jail for her voter registration efforts. A state highway patrolman ordered black prisoners to beat her. “The first Negro began to beat, and I was beat until I was exhausted . . . After the first Negro was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolmen ordered the second Negro to use the blackjack. The second Negro began to beat . . . I began to scream, and one white man got up and began to beat me on my head and tell me to ‘hush.’ ”
Viola Liuzzo, a Michigan housewife, who in 1965 became a martyr of the Civil Rights movement. (Photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viola_Liuzzo).
“Bloody Sunday,” followed by the Liuzzo murder, gave momentum to passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The act prohibited devices employed by Southern legislatures to keep African Americans from voting, such as literacy tests, which were supposedly equally enforced for black and white voters but were manipulated to systematically deny African Americans the ballot. The law also empowered the U.S. Justice Department to monitor elections in order to prevent intimidation and harassment of black voters in districts with a history of such behavior.
President Lyndon Johnson and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Together, the frequent antagonists changed America forever. (Photo from http://tmp.kiwix.org:4201/I/250px_Martin_Luther_King_Jr_and_Lyndon_Johnson_2.jpg).
Although both Kennedy and Johnson had sometimes half-heartedly and inconsistently supported civil rights, the actions of both administrations regarding the black freedom struggle had two long term results. The so-called "Solid South" cracked. For decades Southern states had elected a delegation to the House and Senate consisting almost entirely of Democrats. Now segregationists, angered by Kennedy's intervention at Ol' Miss and Johnson's passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws in 1964 and 1965, reluctantly drifted from what had been the party of the Confederacy to the Republicans, the once-hated party of Abraham Lincoln. After a result of the Voting Rights Act, African Americans were now a factor in Southern elections and , like blacks nationally, became firmly attached to the Democratic Party. This dramatic racial realignment of the American political system would not be complete until the 1990s.