Iíve written before about growing up in a society that was essentially politics-free. I was an adolescent during the Eisenhower years and a teenager during the Kennedy years. It was a period of compromise in order to get things done for the people rather than visions of grandeur for the individual politician. And that made for a culture that didnít argue too much about politics; in fact a culture that didnít even talk about politics that much.
Remembering the í50s and í60s as I do, it dawned on me the other day that I was engaged in selective thinking about the past. There were politics then as there are now. Perhaps a more gentle, forgiving kind of politics but politics just the same. Iíve said before that I was raised in a yellow-dog Democrat home as were many other people in the town I grew up in. The problem with remembering it that way is that a Democrat in those days wasnít the same as being a Democrat today. I was active politically as a teenager and served on political campaigns, the most notable saw me named the statewide youth movement coordinator for the gubernatorial campaign for a former Congressman and a dentist by profession who was running for governor. His name was Dale Alford and he was a segregationist.
He was beaten in the Democratic primary by a fellow named Jim Johnson who made Alfordís segregation bona fides look meager by comparison. He was an out and out racist and segregationist along the lines of Orval Faubus, another Democrat who was elected governor and became infamous for forbidding the integration of Little Rock Central High School. President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, ordered National Guard troops federalized to accompany the black students to their classes at Central, insuring that integration was achieved. Older people in our society remember George Wallace of Alabama and Lester Maddox of Georgia, also governors and also Democrats, who attempted to deny integration in their states as well.
Jim Johnson, the segregationist and Democratic candidate for governor of Arkansas was defeated by Winthrop Rockefeller, the Republican candidate and the brother of Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who supported racial integration and has been evaluated as one of the best governors Arkansas ever had, even by those from the liberal side.
So things are upside down now from what they were 60 years ago. The Democratic Party today is a bastion of hope for the Black population in this country, to the point that itís not unusual for a Democratic candidate to receive 90% or higher of the Black vote in an election pitting a Democrat against a Republican. And, on the other hand, the number of Blacks claiming allegiance to the Republican Party is miniscule.
This happened primarily due to the decisions made by the Kennedy administration to integrate schools nationwide during his tenure in the 60ís. He was told that in doing that he would be kissing the South goodbye but he did it anyway and his critics were right. Itís difficult to find elected officials in the South who are Black and Arkansas has become one of the most conservative states in the nation, with a full coterie of elected official s who is Republican and thereís no reason to believe thatís going to change in the near future.
Upside down politics and some of us were there for it all. We may not fully understand it but we DO know it is what it is.