The Western Origins of the "Southern Strategy"
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The untold story of the ideological realignment that upended the nation
The strengthened Republicans greeted the alienated Southerners with open arms. While there was no possibility of them actually becoming Republicans, they were perfectly willing to form a conservative coalition in Congress to block progressive legislation.

Harry Truman's ascension to the presidency in 1945 created another crisis for the South. Unlike Roosevelt—who mostly accommodated that region on racial issues—Truman acted, desegregating the military and the civil service, which had been segregated by Woodrow Wilson. At the same time, Northern liberals like Minneapolis Mayor Hubert Humphrey were pushing the Democratic Party to do more on civil rights.

Racist Southerners were outraged by Truman's actions and hatched a plan to assure his defeat in 1948 by running a third-party presidential bid led by Senator Strom Thurmond, Democrat of South Carolina. In what was expected to be a close race against Republican Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, the loss of a couple of Southern states would likely doom Truman's prospects, the insurgents thought.

Although Thurmond carried four states, Truman eked out an upset victory. Not only that, Democrats recaptured the House and Senate after Republicans had taken control of both in 1946. The bulk of new members were liberals from the North, eager to do something meaningful about civil rights. Frustrating their efforts, however, were seniority rules that greatly benefited the Southerners.

Southern Democrats had largely escaped losses in the 1946 elections and thus gained considerable seniority, becoming chairmen of many important committees for the next several decades. They also installed one of their own, Lyndon Johnson of Texas, as Senate majority leader in 1955. His principal job was keeping civil rights legislation bottled up—without leaving anyone's fingerprints…
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