The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, January 02, 2006

Alger, I mean Adlai on the Powell Amendment

Hitting the Google Books once more, I find another gobbet on another object of obsession hereabouts (umpteen earlier pieces).

On page 119 of Civil Rights and Wrongs: A Memoir of Race and Politics, 1944-1996 by Harry S Ashmore [1], one finds a passage dealing with Adlai Stevenson's attitude to the Powell Amendment during the 1956 primary campaign.

Estes Kefauver had just kicked Adlai's ass in his own backyard in the Minnesota primary on March 20, majoring on desegregation. And, according to Ashmore (p119), "turned the issue against" Stevenson, who "saw no reason to mention it at all."

Next up was the California primary. Apparently, "Franklin Williams, the NAACP's West Coast representative" opposed the Stevenson line that "the implementation of Brown...could not be achieved by coercion." And threatened Stevenson with the loss of the Negro vote unless he at least supported the PA.

William's influence was not so much via the Negro vote (not too many in CA at the time) but over CA liberals. (Kefauver, it seems, was, despite his generally aggresively liberal stance, tapdancing around Brown implementation. He didn't sign the Southern Manifesto [2], of course - refusing to refuse did not entail a warm and gushing embrace.)

Stevenson gave a speech in Fresno which went down like a lead balloon. Adlai's answer:
Here among these intense young liberals it missed its mark. Evidently what they want to hear about is civil rights, minorities and Israel, and little else, and certainly no vague futures.

He braved a Negro audience in Los Angeles to tell them:
I will do everything I can to bring about national unity even if I have to ask some of you to come about it gradually.

Bill Lawrence of The New York Times, standing beside me in the back of the jam-packed hall, exclaimed, "He's blown it"...

Clearly, as far as Brown was concerned, the view that implementation needed more deliberation than speed was not confined to the Friends of Dixie (though Stevenson was a moderate who gained liberal support through opposing denizens of the farther shores of Cold War conspiracy).

Kefauver's campaign in the South were, it seems, not hollering but whispering nigger! Ashmore says he reported to Camp Adlai at the time
On the word-of-mouth level, Kefauver's people are undoubtedly making hay with the ain't-nobody-here-but-us Confederates approach to segregation...In the cracker country the standard technique is a broad wink and the question, 'Who do you think can handle them niggers better, a city fellow from Illinois or a country boy from Tennessee?'

The underlying fear amongst Dems was a Southern bolt, as in 1948. Ashmore suggested that both Southern Dems and voting (mostly Northern) Negroes could be kept in the Stevenson camp by careful use of this threat.

By April, Stevenson was trying to fix Eisenhower with the responsibility of driving the process of getting Southern and Negro leaders to agree a basis for implementing Brown.

And that's when the GB pages run out...

Adlai won, and then lost, of course. Perhaps one day I'll get the yen to look at him. Perhaps if a dead-tree Ashmore comes my way!

The other, related, threat to the Democrats in 1956 was the loss of the Negro vote to the GOP. It was, I think, thought a genuine possibility - certainly so long as the Dems in the Senate ensured civil rights bills were filibustered to buggery. Clarke Clifford's 1947 note I've discussed before. Adam Clayton Powell backed DDE in 1956.

Which is where - or at least, with whom - we came in.

  1. Ashmore was a journo who took leave to work for Adlai's '56 campaign. Interview and review.

  2. A snippet previously unknown to me: Kefauver's non-signature of the Manifesto was assumed to be a plus point for him over Stevenson.


    ...asked Senator Olin Johnson of South Carolina if he couldn't at least urge his colleague to delay release of the manifesto[. H]e replied, 'It's no use trying to talk to Strom. He believes that shit.'
    The quote is well known, of course; the context, less so, I suspect.

    Of course, Kefauver was loathed by Southern pols generally; Stevenson, on the basis of the enemy of my enemy, ought to have got some sympathy from that quarter.

    Is Johnson to be believed? Thurmond is usually evaluated, and condemned, on his record on race. His political acumen is much less argued over, is my impression.

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