The 1948 Democratic Convention & Why Party Splits Can Be Essential For Long-Term Success

How did the Democratic Party move from the party of segregation, to the champion of Civil Rights and Blacks in less than a century?

It’s all thanks to the 1948 Presidential race.

In 1948, Democrats gathered in Philadelphia, to choose between Senator Richard Russel Jr. of Georgia and President Harry S. Truman. But the convention soon became tense.

A split had been growing between Northern Liberal Democrats and Southern Democrats over the issue of Civil Rights. The mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey, and Illinois Senator Paul Douglas spearheaded the push to accept a Civil Rights platform plank and Truman’s own Civil Rights policies.

Humphrey pleaded Democrats to “get out of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.”

In a close vote, the convention adopted the new Civil Rights plank. It included provisions against lynching, school segregation, and job discrimination. Truman won the nomination.

Southern Democrats, however, weren’t going to take this change lying down.

The Mississippi delegation, led by Governor Fielding L. Wright and former Governor Hugh L. White, walked out. Half of Alabama’s delegates followed suit. Handy Ellis, an Alabama delegate, on his way out of the convention warned the rest of the assembly that

“The South is no longer going to be the whipping boy of the Democratic Party. And you know that without the votes of the South you cannot elect the president of the United States.”

The Southern Democrats in a desperate attempt to avoid Civil Right reforms broke off after the convention, creating the Dixiecrat party (also known as the State’s Rights Democratic Party). The party nominated South Carolinian Senator, Strom Thurmond for President. The Dixiecrat plan was to gain 127 Southern electorate votes to throw the election to the representatives, where they’d support whichever candidate protected their segregationist policies the best.

The Dixiecrats ended up winning Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, totaling 39 electorate votes. The Democratic Party split was expected to throw the election to the Republican candidate Dewey, but Ellis’s warning proved false. Truman won the presidential election, despite losing the support of Southern Democrats. Thanks to the Democrats new Civil Rights platform plank, Truman won Ohio and Illinois in large part due to black votes in Chicago and Cleveland.

After the 1948 election, the Dixiecrat party mostly dissolved back into the Democrat Party. Truman, the DNC, and New Deal Southern Democrats weeded out whatever was left of the off-shoot movement. The south would no longer be a strong Democratic voting bloc for presidential elections, although it remained one for local elections.

Pushing a Civil Rights platform plank was a gutsy move, and democrats new it. Moderate Democrats opposed it for fear of losing Southern support; they didn’t believe they could win by alienating Southern Democrats. But in the end, it proved successful.

Today, party splits are proving a problem for the GOP. Calls for “unity” are falling on deaf ears as many Republicans are refusing to support Trump and his ever-changing platform, seen by many as un-conservative.


“The GOP has split. There’s not denying it.”


In the GOP’s case, the situation is flipped. Instead of the white supremacist, segregationist facet splitting off to form their own party, it’s the anti-supremacists who are splitting off.

The party, instead of nominating a Civil Rights platform and candidate, is nominating a racist-signaling nationalist.

The GOP has split. There’s no denying it. The question is; what’s the point of the split, and is it going to prove successful later on?

First off, the point of the split is principle. Many republicans and conservatives refuse to back a candidate they see as promoting dangerous, un-conservative policies and views. But maybe the focus of the split should move to eradicating these poisonous members from the party.

The 1948 Democratic split had the effect of shutting up and reducing the influence of Southern segregationist Democrats.

Could the GOP split have the same effect? Should it?

This is the decision that could decide the fate of the Republican Party. Either, stand against Trump but refuse to purge these characteristics from the party, or transform the split into a party wide purge.

I’ve already talked about how poorly Trump is doing among minorities, and how poorly the GOP has done with them in general. The party has been on a slippery slope toward neo-white supremacism for a while now. You can thank extremist immigration rhetoric, white pandering (via anti-BLM, anti-criminal justice reform, etc), and dog whistle politics for this shift.

To survive shifting cultural norms the GOP will have to purge this racial-signaling rhetoric. They can do this by addressing and presenting policy-platforms on issues like police brutality, criminal justice reform, and opening up immigration. They’ll need to drop “build the wall” fantasies, black victim blaming, and red herrings meant to pander to whites while vilifying minorities.

Hoping Trump loses and his supremacist allies fade away isn’t a strategy. It’s a recipe for future problems. White supremacists, and white panderers should have no place in the party, and republicans need to realize that.

Don’t fear the change that your party so desperately requires.

If the #NeverTrump facet of the GOP plays their cards right, they can punish and expel the supremacist elements of the party while introducing genuine minority outreach efforts and legislation.

The 1948 Democratic convention was a turning point for the Democratic Party and its segregationist elements. It showed how effective party splits could be for the health and longevity of a party.

Will the GOP make the same choice and shift away from its racial undertones? For their sake I hope so.

spyrojyro@comcast.net'

About John-Pierre Maeli

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Freelance op-ed and longform writer, and managing editor at Refined Right. Focusing on discussions, not debates. Friendly neighbor fashion icon.