The Dixiecrats, 1948

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This St. Louis Post-Dispatch political cartoon by Daniel Fitzpatrick comments on the shared investment in white supremacy that united Dixiecrats with big business and white voters who supported segregation. Here, the cartoonist mocks these voters by representing them with a character labeled “Plain Boob.” Courtesy of The State Historical Society of Missouri via Missouri Hub.

In the summer of 1948, conservative white southern Democrats formed the States’ Rights Democratic Party, also known as the Dixiecrats, in reaction to President Harry Truman’s support of the civil rights plank in the national Democratic Party platform and his executive order to desegregate the armed forces. The Dixiecrats supported a segregationist agenda that rejected federal intervention and racial integration and advocated for the preservation of Jim Crow laws and white supremacy. Where rhetoric within the Dixiecrat campaign often focused on the federal government as the outsider threatening to take away power from states, this talk was a surrogate for fear of the political and social power that African Americans would achieve through activism and civil rights legislation.

The Dixiecrats held their one and only convention in Birmingham, Alabama in July 1948 and nominated South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond as their candidate for president. Their goal was to win 127 electoral votes in the election, denying both the Democrats and Republicans a majority and forcing the decision into the House of Representatives where they could negotiate the civil rights agenda. In November 1948, Thurmond received 2.4% of the popular vote and 39 electoral votes, carrying Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Mississippi. Significantly, this support came overwhelmingly from states with disenfranchised black majority populations, where white voters felt most threatened by the dissolution of segregation and the political possibilities of black enfranchisement. The Dixiecrats dissolved after the 1948 election but their political work began the weakening of the formerly all-Democratic “Solid South.”