When May arrived in 1948 in Dixie, the South was buzzing with political activity. “On a steamy May 10, 2,500 hot and boisterous states’ rights faithful drove through the Confederate flag-festooned streets of Jackson, finally converging on the municipal auditorium of the national’ states’ rights conference (The Dixiecrat Revolt 104). Many Southern leaders attended the event as well as grass root organizers. The event had to be non-official because many of the Southern states had not yet picked their delegates at this time. Governors Ben Laney of Arkansas, Thurmond of South Carolina and of course Mississippi Governor Wright were all in attendance. Each of the Governors gave speeches to the convention. Wright gave the second speech where his tone was “solemn” yet “belligerent” demonstrating that he felt sorry that he would have to leave the party of his ancestors…but that he had no other honorable choice but to do so. It was Thurmond who stole the show though. Thurmond used the history of Reconstruction to remind his audience how the South had the freed negroes forced on it at the gunpoint of the federal government. He completely knew his Southern history and was not taught the revisionist version (which is now taught via the education system). He went on excoriate the fallacies and idiocy of the Truman’s civil rights plan. The delegates agreed to support strong states’ rights candidates but due to the convention being so early they couldn’t do much more officially.
Even though Governor Wright had led the revolt and was one of the initial pushers for it, Strom Thurmond was fast becoming the movement’s rising star. Strom was far more charismatic and an appealing politician than the older more conserved Wright. Strom like Wright came from the upper class of Southern society, but he was younger. Strom was a veteran and general during World War 2 and had many friends from his time in the uniform. Strom was also a lady’s man. He was known for being an alpha male and what the internet would now call a “chad”. “In 1948 Thurmond effectively combined a fighting spirit with a well-known penchant for clean living, vigorous physical exercise, and pretty women” (The Dixiecrat Revolt page 101). Thurmond was quite the contrary of the media stereotype of a sweaty, foul mouthed potbellied Southern politician. Strom was a relatively young and energetic man who enjoyed jogging and weight lifting. He went as to solidify his reputation as a masculine gentleman when he married in November of 1947’ to the 21-year-old Jean Crouch, a lady well known for her attractive looks.
Strom continued to outshine his fellow governors in his determination to fight against the federal tyranny brought by President Truman. Strom was an excellent campaigner and speaker, something that would be necessary if their revolt was to be successful…would the Southern mass. He was a master on the campaign trail and rallying the South Carolina people up. When the SC White Democrats met on May 19th at their state convention they were ready to do business. They drew up plans to keep the blacks out of the upcoming primary. The most important decision made was agreeing to not to vote for Truman at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. They would instead vote for their own, Strom Thurmond. The decision was all around agreed upon by the Palmetto people except for the “The Citizens Democratic Party” which was formed in response to the Conventions choice to pledge the delegates to vote against Truman. This “Party” was made up of uppity woman and weak kneed, humanist clergy…your typical milquetoasts. South Carolina was ready to stand her ground.
The states rights rebellion needed to win the rest of the Deep South if it was to have any chance of success. The States Rights campaign still had to win Louisiana, Georgia and especially Texas. To win these states, though they would have to win over the governor of each.
“By the late spring the southern revolt was beginning to acquire a discernible pattern. Gubernatorial support and control of the state party machinery was crucial for the bolt to succeed. Significantly, none of the states that eventually threw their support to the states’ righters faced gubernatorial elections in 1948, and therefore they were free to devote more time and energy to the rebellion. In states with gubernatorial primaries, candidates remained cagey with the regard to the states’ rights issue.” (The Dixiecrat Revolt page 113)
In 1948, bolting the Democratic Party was thought of as an extreme position. The South had been solidly Democrat since the end of the Civil War. Many Southerners mistakenly thought the Democratic Party was conjoined with the South. They forgot that the Party had a Northern wing… that had fought against us during the War of Northern Aggression. In Georgia for example, there had been a power vacuum following the death of the great Governor Eugene Talmadge in late 1946. Gene had gallantly fought for years against Marxism, but in December of 1946 the old sage’s body finally gave out. Talmadge had just triumphed in the Democratic Primary on the White only primary issue. This would start legendary Three Governor’s Controversy in Georgia between no compromise Talmadgeites lead by Gene’s son Herman while the liberals would back the sitting governor and Lt Governor. Lt Governor Melvin Thompson had won the approval of Georgia courts though an upcoming election was to be had in September to decide the next Governor. Thompson had distanced himself from the revolt while Herman Talmadge flirted with the idea but kept cautiously on the sidelines. Neither sides wanted to risk their support on the issue despite both being against Truman’s misguided civil rights rubbish. The States Righters were banking on Herman being able to live up to his father’s name.
In Louisiana, the Long fraction still effected the state. Like Georgia they were going through a power vacuum between Huey Longs former people and his former enemies. Louisiana was a massive chaotic political battleground after the King Fish’s sudden death in 1935. The state nonetheless was still fertile ground or the Dixiecrats. “As it did throughout the South, support for the states’ rights movement in Louisiana had its origins in that state’s opposition to the New Deal and the 1944 effort to deny a fourth term to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Led by then-governor Sam Jones, the Louisiana anti-New Dealers/ states’ righters considered the New Deal’s expansion of the federal government’s power dangerous, particularly its boarding authority over internal resources.” (The Dixiecrat Revolt page 114)
In Louisiana the conservative states’ righters were led by the political boss Leander Perez. This man was a master a manipulating the system and running his machine in his home Parish of Plaquemines, quite mineral rich Parish at that. Perez was a true Louisiana man, with his white suit and cigar and hard determination to maintain the color line (as God intended).
“Born in 1891 to an established Catholic family, Perez’s first language was French. Raised in relative physical isolation in a society “in which,” his biographer notes, “Christianity and its moral code were regarded as absolutes and deviations were frowned upon and punished,” Perez’s passions were lit not by the fire of intellectual inquiry but by a prospect of raw power-economic and political. (The Dixiecrat Revolt 115)
Perez was raised to be Southern. He was taught that so-called “tolerance” is indeed weakness and only leads down a slippery slope to chaos. The young Perez would enter politics in 1916…and though he lost his first race he would grow in power. He would begin amassing a fortune to help his rise and mission to keep his swampy homeland protected. By 1948, he was a powerful and astute political boss who had beef with the Federal government. Perez particularly disliked the avaricious federal government trying to take control of the oil in Louisiana. The state’s governor Earl Long (brother of the Kingfish himself) had just had a smashing primary victory in February over ex-Governor Jones. Earl partially had Perez to thank for his victory and as such promised to keep his hands off the Democrat state committee. This would allow his ally Perez and the conservatives to take over the committee even further. With Long’s compliance and Perez’s organizational skills Louisiana joined the movement alongside her sister states.
In Texas things weren’t going so smoothly for the Dixiecrats. Their Governor, Beauford Jester, was up for reelection and was worried that revolting might hurt his chance for reelection. Jester, despite being against Truman and talking up a big game, soon showed his true craven colors.
“In a speech delivered I late April, Jester capitulated: “No matter aggrieved we may feel, and . . . how our resentment, I do not believe that Texas Democrats should bolt the Party.” (The Dixiecrat Revolt 117)
Jester cowardly waved the white flag and ‘green light’ that the national party could do whatever they pleased, and his Texas boys would servilely follow on their collective knees. Governor Jester’s act of shameless politicking set the precedence in Texas that the Democratic party should be blindly followed. To make matters worse, Arkansas Governor Laney was making a complete mess of things in his state. Laney was incompetent whilst trying to manage the revolt while carefully walking the line, so he might get reelected. Yet despite all these the Southern state righters still had hope of victory. Their litmus test was coming up though, that test being the National Democratic Convention. A Convention that would have a massive effect and legacy.