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So, you know, what made 1964 such a distinctive year for America, do you think? So what made 1964 a distinctive year for America? Well there's a lot going on in the country. There was always the constant threat of nuclear war or the thought of nuclear war. So we see a lot of discussion between the presidential candidates, Lyndon B. Johnson, very goldwater about the threat of nuclear war and what we do during nuclear war and what the country would do. But I would argue that one of the central pieces of 1964 is the civil rights movement. It's the height of the civil rights movement and everybody is talking about civil rights. We have a 1964 civil rights bill, which is on the table, which Republicans and Democrats are arguing over, debating over, really saying what do all this mean to the country. And I'm not sure if you remember, but Lyndon B. Johnson says this is going to be the most aggressive civil rights bill that the nation has ever seen. He also says that with this bill, you know, with the signing of this bill, I've lost the
South. So really civil rights becomes one of the central issues of 1964 and it finds its way into the presidential election and ways that have really important ramifications and consequences. Yeah, I mean, just a quick touch-up. You know, he announces his candidacy. And he's like not a typical public. You've seen him. No. What was he like? Where'd he come from and what did he represent? So very goldwater is the Arizona senator. He is quite the character. He talks a lot about how he desegregated the department stores in Arizona, how he was forced civil rights in Arizona throughout his career. But he's also a bit... He's really untrue, right? He's kind of like a surprising guy in that way. Right. And so, very goldwater actually, if you look at his records, does do things to desegregate and to enhance civil rights on a local and a state level.
That's very different from his belief about the power of the federal government and what is constitutional and what is not. So this is how he emerges as kind of a contrarian. One of the phrases that follows him around is that very goldwater wants to give voters a choice, not an echo. He says it's time to reintroduce real conservatism back into the Republican party. For a lot of voters, that means right wing conservatism. That means extremism. And there are some points that he's especially extreme on. So if we take a look at something like nuclear war, he believes in using force. People see that as radical and extreme. If we look at civil rights, he says it's a state and local level, not a federal issue. Therefore, states should have the right to decide what is best for them. So for example, for black voters, that's interpreted as an open all pass for segregationists, for racist, for white supremacists.
Because that means the states know what's best for their voters, which includes black people who are disenfranchised. That's always kind of funny to me to think about goldwater's point of view. He's talking about leaving decision-making about rights, excuse me, my daughter who's out of school. I was happy to make sure that it is my daughter. Hello. I'd say where it wasn't. Contrarian goldwater? By being sort of pro-states rights, it means that he thinks that George Wallace and Ross Barnett, and these are the kind of people that should be making decisions, right? Right. It's a little part that no one wants to talk about. If I'm not in favor of the federal government doing this, what does that mean? So goldwater is interesting because throughout the campaign season, 1964 election season, he actually says, you know, I am not a racist, I am not a segregationist.
This is not what states' rights means, this is not what civil rights means. However, we see individuals in the South and groups in the South, like for example the Ku Klux Klan, say, this is the man that we want to vote for. This is who we are endorsing. And goldwater kind of plays both sides by not disagreeing with the Ku Klux Klan or not disavowing the endorsement, but also not embracing it. He goes silent. He goes dark. His campaign manager says, we're not going to throw away any votes. So if they want to vote for us, that's fine, but if black voters want to vote for us, that's fine as well. Right. So he can't really want, doesn't want these people, but he kind of needs their energy, right? These extreme parts of the party. Right. So I think in terms of campaign strategy, goldwater and his team are thinking, what is the best strategy for getting votes when we're up against a giant, like Lyndon B. Johnson? What's the best thing that we can do?
And there's a famous phrase that comes out of all of this. Some people say that it's uttered by goldwater, other people say it's not. But the phrase is, let's go hunting where the ducks are. And the idea is, let's go after those voters that we know that we can get with our version of conservatism. And sometimes that's interpreted as the extremist, the segregationist, the dixie crats, the deep south states, those states that are four state rights, and consequently against civil rights. Right. Right. So he's sort of writing off the black vote, in fact. Right. So this idea of writing off the black vote is one that Barry Goldwater also says, no, I'm not writing off the black vote. And in fact, goldwater goes to different places in California and actually speaks to a number of black groups, including some local NAACP chapters and says, look, I'm not writing off the black vote. I want the black vote. And in fact, I see our ideas in concert with one another. I believe individual rights says something about civil rights and all of you deserve civil
rights. And you are guaranteed rights by your constitutionality and by your citizenship. However, he also continues to say, look, saying that I'm four states' rights and civil rights are not in disagreement, and even as black voters get angrier and angrier and say that these things do not work well together, he continues to disavow that. I'm sure you'll see it's not going to happen. There's a scene like in mid-January after Johnson is thrust into the White House. Where all the civil rights leaders go to the White House to meet with the new president. Do you remember that moment? Tell me about that. There's a lot of writing on that meeting. And Johnson surprises the crap out of it. I can't remember exactly the lot of the details on the meeting, but I know in terms of meeting with LBJ and the civil rights leaders, there is a lot of writing on that moment.
The idea that the federal government will enforce civil rights legislation past previous prior future legislation is huge. Civil rights is nothing without the protection of the federal government. So I think for Johnson's pledge his support and say, you know, this is going to be one of the most vigorous bills and eventual pieces of legislation that we see is huge. And a lot of civil rights leaders see this as a turning point moment in terms of allyship and alliance with the Democratic Party and say that we can be effective through the executive office. And 64 is a moment when everything is really on the table in a way that it hasn't been before. Why was it that the civil rights bills just hadn't ever gone anywhere? Why was it that there was Kennedy civil rights bills?
They're picking up and it had been a dead letter for a few months. Great. What is that? Why can't civil rights legislation move forward? So civil rights legislation is one of those tricky areas where in both corners a lot of public support and a lot of public disavowal. And part of why legislation stalls at times is because of public opinion. Sometimes if you look at a few studies, you'll see that legislation will follow trends in the public population. But aside from all of that, I think Republican and Democratic and Republican and Democrats are trying to decide if this is something that they want to support. Do they want the power of the federal government behind this to give equal rights to all citizens regardless of race, creed, color, things like that? So it becomes something that's really tricky, I'm not sure if I'm answering it the way
I think it's the southern block, the southern senators who just control the power, the filibusters just so overwhelming that they can't get it through. And I think it's a fascinating moment that Johnson is in many ways the only guy in some way that could have made this happen. I also think it's important to remember that when we look at voting in terms of the civil rights for the 1964 civil rights bill, the divide is not Republican and Democrat, the way that we might think about it now. It's actually more of a deep south versus the rest of the country divide. So we don't, we see people voting for the 1964 civil rights bill who wouldn't normally necessarily associate with civil rights. And by that I mean Republicans. But continuously we see southern Democrats and Republicans, deep south southern Democrats and Republicans come together to oppose civil rights legislation and I don't think that's
any accident. Yeah. And Everdurgeon plays such an interesting role and asks you to vote. Right. Right. Johnson plays in so. Right. Right. Right. Right. Right. Tell me about the Republican national convention. In 1964? Yeah. Goldwater. Goldwater is this insurgent, right? Right. It's not like a typical convention. Now the kind of the bomb thrars are at the gates that they've taken over the house or what's going on in that convention. How's it different from 1960 in the ones that have come before? Well, the 1964 Republican National Convention is something straight out of a Hollywood movie. I mean, it's full of fist fights, lighting people on fire, protests, people riding in the streets. All of this is taking place at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. And it's just really a way of understanding the internal strife that is going on with
the Republican Party, but also how the rest of the world is viewing the Republican Party. So there's infighting going on on the floor while people are protesting outside. I mean, people show up to the Cow Palace on the first day of the convention and there are 50,000 protesters outside. There are these wonderful images, maybe wonderful is not the word, there are these images of people angrily storming the streets outside of the Cow Palace saying, we do not want Barry Goldwater. We don't want Barry Goldwater because they're terrified that the Republicans will nominate somebody like Barry Goldwater who represents this conservative brand of Republicanism. Once you get inside, there are all kinds of arguments going on. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I mean, it's the intense, it's the faithful. Right. Goldwater rights have packed the convention. Right. So you have a convention that's full of goldwater rights who are also very loud, who are very aggressive, who are throwing things at people, and they're all there for their man Barry Goldwater.
And so what ends up happening is we have a somebody who represents what we might call a marginal percentage of the Republican Party who takes control and ends up being elected as the party's candidate. You have people who are Rockefeller Republicans, Eisenhower Republicans, who are completely stunned, upset, there are tears, right. They're completely outnumbered and at the end of the convention, a lot of them are sitting around saying, how did we let this happen? The Nelson Rockefeller speaks at the convention. Right. And it's very angry in his speech. In fact, says, you know, I won't go on to support somebody like Goldwater. Goldwater is not necessarily representative of the kind of conservatism that we want. He gets booed. There are all kinds of problems that arise from that particular moment. And black delegates who make up less than 2% of all the representatives at the 1964 convention actually stage a walk out.
They walk out during the convention proceedings because they want to show, they want to turn their back on Goldwater and say, we do not support someone like this. We want something like Scranton or Rockefeller running the show. And black Republicans are in a particularly difficult spot, right? Right. And they represent kind of a, they're on the edge of this change. So black Republicans, the 1964 election puts black Republicans into a really precarious position. They are forced verbally to articulate what they see as their loyalty to their party or their loyalty to the race. So black Republicans are forced to choose in a way between the race and between their party. And they feel like it leaves them nothing to choose from. So what do we do? Do we support Goldwater? We can't support Goldwater. Do we support LBJ? Well, we can't support LBJ. We think he's too liberal on a number of issues. So we feel like we've been silenced and we have no choice.
On top of that, they're receiving a big pushback from black voters and from the black community who say, how can you continue to be Republicans when your party elects somebody like Barry Goldwater to represent it? So it's a really difficult conundrum, one might even say tragic for black Republicans in 1964. Right. And Jackie Robinson is there, right? Yeah, let's say, Meg, can you do a quick touch up? Yeah. So somebody like Jackie Robinson, for example, is at the campaign. He's symbolic of the buying, right, that these people are telling about him. So Jackie Robinson is a great political history figure and he's great because we tend to traditionally know Jackie Robinson as someone who is a baseball hero, an athletic hero, first of his kind. But what most people don't know is that he actually was very active in political circles, especially during his early years in Republican circles. And so he's really indicative of this conundrum or this tight space that black Republicans
are in. Jackie Robinson is actually the spokesperson for a large part of this, saying, you know, how am I supposed to vote for someone like Goldwater? He's terrible. I absolutely cannot bring myself to support somebody like Goldwater. And he's part of this organizing faction that says, you know, we're going to march out of the convention floor. We're going to do a blackout, a black Republican blackout, because we don't want to support Goldwater. And in fact, he describes, Jackie Robinson describes himself as the head of a militant wing of black Republicans. So it seems a little oxymoronic, but in fact, it's really representative of what these black Republicans saw themselves as. And there are other things going on in the civil rights movement during this year that's making ramping up the pressure on people as well. I guess it's after it's just before the convention, the three civil rights workers have been
found murdered in the city. It's after the convention, Harlem goes up in flames for the first time, right? Right, right. Well, there's a 1941 Harlem uprising, but yeah, people are like, oh my god, the city's party. Right, right. So what are the stakes in racial politics going on at this point? I mean, it feels like there's a fork in the road. There's some fundamental divides. There's some serious choices have to be made in 64 about these issues. So in 1964, race is coming to a boiling point. And I mean, there have been a number of different things that have happened before 64, but 64 is a moment where we start to see huge displays of violence. Violence towards black bodies, black bodies erupting in violence in their communities, things like the civil rights workers dying or being murdered.
And I think really what's at stake here is the idea of civil rights for an entire group of individuals or communities in the United States, which is a radical concept. It's a radical concept because the United, we have to remember that the United States is one that had existed as two separate but unequal societies for a very long time. So whenever there is radical social and political change, there is going to be uprisings of sorts. So really, this is what's at stake. In terms of, you know, the democratic in that same year, there's another pretty dramatic group of blacks who are taking a stand, MFDP, if you've looked at that much. I have for my classes and things like that. Right. What does she signify to you and the fact that she's symbolic, I think, of a moment in this year where a line is being drawn in the sand, I think.
Right. So a woman like Fannie Lou Hamer is indicative of African-Americans saying, we will no longer be treated as second-class citizens. We are no longer second-class citizens and we demand our equality. We demand that you treat us as humans. So for Fannie Lou Hamer to speak, it's not necessarily about the politics, the playmaking behind the scene, but the moment where she can testify in front of not only the democratic party, but the nation because it's televised, we have to remember that. But testify about the importance of civil rights and how black people really aren't going to take it anymore. So I think it's a pivotal moment in African-American history and American history. What makes your performance so vividly? She says at one point, I question America at the end. Now she's describing these beatings.
Well with Fannie Lou Hamer, I think the powerful thing about her is she's questioning democracy as she is using the democratic process to question that democracy. So it's really kind of this met-a-moment where she's turning all ideas of democracy on its head and saying how can we live in a democratic nation that continues to treat its citizens as second-class citizens, as to treat them less than human beings. So that's a very powerful moment. One of the things that's really important about her testimony is the way that she's simply relaying her life story and the life stories of people that live in the South and live in Mississippi. It's a moment that can be transferred to black people all over the country. So there's something that's coming through in her speech and in that media moment that says, I'm just like you, I may look slightly different, but I deserve equal treatment and I will take my equal treatment.
I will have my equal treatment. She talks about being beaten by the police too, which I think must have shocked people in 1964, the idea that this woman in really simple terms is just talking about being beaten up in a police station. Right. Really? You forget. Right. We're still in urge to all this stuff, but the way what that must have meant to mostly white America. You know, this white power structure and this complacent white business class at that time, going like, oh my god. Well, I think Fannie Lou Hamers testimony, Hamers testimony is shocking and it disrupts what we might say white normative ideas about black people, about civil rights, about democracy, about police, about fairness. And so when we hear someone testifying about this kind of day-to-day existence that is peppered with violence, it's designed to kind of shock people out of their complacency.
To make people feel like they can relate to the struggle that she's going through. Just to do me a favor, don't go into the camera, keep your eye on. Oh, okay. And by the same token that the three civil rights workers are killed, is it really significant that two of them are white? So with the civil right workers, I think it's a deeply significant that two of them are white. It takes this from something violence that is happening solely to black bodies to violence that is happening to all Americans, including white Americans. So all of a sudden, we have these two young white men who are really idealistic who have gone down to the South to help out with the civil rights struggles who have been violently murdered. All of a sudden, it becomes something that's on the FBI's radar because something that affects people in their homes, including those middle class individuals, those what we might call soft moderates or liberals who are sitting at home saying, well, this could
never happen to somebody like me. All of a sudden, this is something that could happen to someone like me. We're going to talk about Moses, you know, in April. Oh, wow. In part, that was almost the point. I think the body was trying to do that's raised the stakes here. Right. And so it's no mistake that a lot of these kind of moderate civil rights organizations, civil rights organizations enlist the help of white college students. Why? Because they're college students. They're white. They're young. They're happy. They're idealistic. And they're willing to go to the worst parts of the South and work side-by-side with African Americans for civil rights and for legislation and voting rights. They're also willing to risk their lives. And this kind of idea transfers well in terms of media. What does it mean when white students start being killed alongside black students? And what does it mean when they're all really young? It puts it on the front page. Right.
Right. It makes national headlines. Right. Other things going on in culture, Betty Ferdinand, she's a book, kind of in the state. Right. Why does that make such a big impact? Do you think on America at that moment? Well, I think the 1960s is all about this explosion in social, political, cultural movements. So for Betty Ferdinand to come out and completely blow the roof off this idea of the domestic woman, the woman who stays at home, who enjoys being a housewife, who enjoys kind of this idea of domesticity, is completely groundbreaking for that moment. And it allows women to have a voice that has been stifled or has been minor in this particular era. So all of a sudden, this idea of civil rights is not just necessarily about race, it's also something that becomes about gender as well.
She's crazy about when the word sex is inserted into the civil rights bill. Right. It's almost done as a delaying tactic, like poison pills strategy or something. Right. But then it stays in. Right. It's crazy. Right. So there's this great, I mean, there are these great stories about how sex or gender is inserted into the civil rights bill as a way of delaying it, pushing it out, saying, you know, this will never pass if we, you know, throw women into the mix. And it passes. So all of a sudden, now gender and sex is part of civil rights and it's part of equality. So it's a real boon for the civil rights movement, but also for the women's movement, the second wave and second wave feminism. And it's something that completely happens, we might even say accidentally or not on purpose. Right. Right. Meg, one more tiny touch up and then this is great. What's going on? What's going on? To have a civil rights movement itself to the black civil rights movement.
There's an alabaker and books like that on Snickr. Don't quite see things the way a Martin Luther King sees things. What's happening? Well, the civil rights movement, I liken it to a tree with branches, various branches. It's not a monolithic thing. There are different people, different ideas, different ages. And so really, by 1964, we're starting to see fracturing of those kind of various civil rights organizations. We see the development and the break off of groups like Snickr. We see groups like the National Negro Republican Assembly pop up. We also see the SCLC continue on in their ideas and granted these groups do come together. But they oftentimes have very different ideas about how uplift should happen. So we see something like Snickr by 1960 is saying we need to, oh, do me.
Oh, I thought. We see something like Snickr start to break off or separate itself from the SCLC as a way of young people having power in the movement. Alabaker, who is a field organizer for the NAACP for a very long time before she goes to work for the SCLC, Alabaker is adamant about young people retaining power and young people being a tool within the movement. She says they have a lot of organizing potential and in fact that real change will come through young people in the movement. There's also a couple of women that raise a protest about sexism within Snickr. Right, right. That's not on your radar, you don't have to answer. It just popped up in a conversation the other day. I mean, it's an important moment.
Right, on their prone, on their back. Right, and I think one of the things to remember about civil rights organizations and civil rights movement and the gender movement is that there's a lot of intersectionality that happens. And that just because an organization is invested in civil rights doesn't necessarily mean that all of its members are invested in rights for everyone. A perfect example of this is kind of the gender struggles that go on throughout an organization like Snickr. Alabaker at different points and times complains about the gender imbalance in Snickr or the gender imbalance in SCLC. We also see a number of women stage protests over what they see as misogyny or chauvinism that goes on within the organization. We also know that these civil rights organizations didn't have the best record on gay civil rights. Which was deeply problematic since there were various strategists who were gay but didn't feel free to be open at this particular moment in time.
Right, right. What do you think is the big, is there a lesson about 1964? Is there a kind of moment when we look back on it that you understand what it was that was driving? That's a big question. I think it's a civil rights thing and I think it's a politics thing. Purely on the political level. Imagine what it is that is, can you imagine a year full of more political transformation? Right. 1964 is a year that forces people to make decisions. Hardline decisions about where they stand on issues of civil rights. Where politics stands on civil rights. There's no way of skirting the issue.
Those that do skirt the issue or try to avoid the idea of civil rights get cast into the league of people who are against civil rights. There's this great interview with one historical figure who says either you're four civil rights or you're against civil rights. There's no in between. And anybody whose four civil rights is on our side, anyone who is against is our enemy. And so that's a profound way I think of thinking about 1964. It's just politically explosive year where people are forced to say what they mean, mean what they say, and follow it up. Right. Right. And you could probably argue that goldwater is one of the ones that end up civil rights act itself, create this huge schism. Right. So even years later, after the 1964 civil rights act passes, Black voters still remember those individuals that voted against and voted for the act. I mean, it's a monumental event because it also taints the Republican Party.
All of a sudden, the Republican Party, even though there are Republicans who vote for the act, becomes the party that is against civil rights because their presidential candidate refused to endorse the act, saying it was unconstitutional. So here's this really pivotal turning point, this monumental piece of legislation that does up until this more for civil rights than any other bill up until this point in time. So it's got this huge impact on American culture, politics, social rights, things like that. And the South goes through a transformation politically, really unprecedented, and it all happens in one election. Right. So the South real lines, the deep South states become Republican. And also start to see, this is really the peak of Southern Senators, Southern Democratic Senators, switching parties, becoming Republicans. And so this is when we start to see the realignment, the real strong realignment of political parties, where the Democratic Party really becomes the party of civil rights, and the Republican Party starts to become the party that is hostile to civil rights. Right. Ultimately, where do Black Republicans go from 1964? What's there? How do they navigate out of this crazy box that they find themselves in, where they're ignored by one party and dismissed by another?
Right. Well, Black Republicans have this mantra of two party competition. So for a lot of Black Republicans, they decide to stay within the party. Ed Brooks says you can't change a party from outside. So the best way to change the party is to stay within. So we start to see Black Republicans ramping up their activity or attempting to ramp up their activity within the party. They see 1964 as a devastating moment, but they also see as an opportunity, an opportunity to push the party in the direction that they wanted to go to pursue an agenda of civil rights. So even as the party is becoming more hostile to civil rights, we have this faction within the party that's saying, hey, wait, we don't have to go in that direction. We can become a party that says embrace the civil rights and says, you know, we are the party of equality. Great. I think we're done. Let's get 30 seconds for the right 30 seconds.
And we're done. That wasn't too painful, wasn't it?
American Experience
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Interview with Leah Wright Rigueur, Historian
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WGBH (Boston, Massachusetts)
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It was the year of the Beatles and the Civil Rights Act; of the Gulf of Tonkin and Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign; the year that cities across the country erupted in violence and Americans tried to make sense of the Kennedy assassination. Based on The Last Innocent Year: America in 1964 by award-winning journalist Jon Margolis, this film follows some of the most prominent figures of the time -- Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barry Goldwater, Betty Friedan -- and brings out from the shadows the actions of ordinary Americans whose frustrations, ambitions and anxieties began to turn the country onto a new and different course.
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Politics and Government
American history, African Americans, civil rights, politics, Vietnam War, 1960s, counterculture
(c) 2014-2017 WGBH Educational Foundation
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