The Dixiecrats were a group of Southern Democrats who broke away from their party in 1948 because they objected to the Democratic Party’s stance on desegregation. The Dixiecrats were also known as “States’ Rights Democrats.” They represent part of a massive shift in party allegiance that reshaped the politics of the South during the second half of the 20th century.
Up through the end of the Second World War, the Democratic Party dominated the US South; it was virtually impossible for Southern politicians to win office unless they were Democrats. There were rumbles of discontent in the 1930s, as many southern politicians objected to FDR’s social policies and to his support of the labor movement. Still, southern Democrats remained loyal to their party.
That all changed in 1948, when President Harry Truman presented a pro-civil rights platform at the party’s political convention. A group of southern Democrats, led by Strom Thurmond, walked out of the convention in protest. Those men, who became known as the Dixiecrats, organized their own, separate presidential convention in Birmingham Alabama; footage from the time shows participants waving confederate flags as they strode into their convention hall. An estimated six thousand people from 13 southern states participated in the convention.
Their plan was to field their own presidential candidate in the upcoming election. They didn’t expect to win, but they hoped to earn all the southern states’ electoral votes, so that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would be able to win the election. This would have meant that the House of Representatives would decide the vote, and the Dixiecrats believed that southern states had enough power in the House to deadlock the outcome until Truman dropped his civil rights platform.
In the event, the Dixiecrats nominated Strom Thurmond as their candidate for president. Fielding L. Wright was nominated as vice president. Thurmond was a prominent opponent of de-segregation efforts. A native of South Carolina, he went on to have a long career in the US Senate, where he eventually became the oldest serving senator (until he was overtaken by Robert Byrd of West Virginia). He made a name for himself as a staunch opponent of civil rights legislation and a proponent of military spending. In 1948, Thurmond received over one million votes. He carried four states (South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama) and won 39 electoral votes.
After 1948, the Dixiecrats never fielded another presidential candidate. However, they did meet later that year for a second convention, this time in Oklahoma City. There, they drew up and unanimously adopted a party platform. The platform calls for an end to de-segregation and for an increase in states’ rights. It reads, in part,
“We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one’s living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.”