Politics

08.23.13

Conservatives and the March

Tomorrow people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of the great March on Washington. It is worth remembering two points. 

First, there'd never been something like that before in the United States. People march today at the drop of a hat, and the news of a new march is now just wallpaper, something in the background of our lives; but then, it was brand new and without precedent. It's just worth remembering what a big, big deal it was for Americans to see 200,000 of their fellows converge on the mall. 

Second, it's worth remembering what a plantation Washington DC was in 1963. I just re-watched the other day, for the fourth or fifth time, a WETA documentary on Washington in the 60s. Here is some info about it. Incredible. A moral focal point was Glen Echo Park, a wonderful art-deco playland in Maryland along the Potomac. Today it just has a carousel and some pavillions, while offering tons of activities and classes for the kiddies. But then it was a full-fledged amusement park.

And whites only. Although unofficially. A commuter train ran right up to it. Blacks, this show said, understood that they had to get off before the Glen Echo stop. The doc featured an amazing audio tape of a young African American who rode to the Glen Echo stop and asked a guard why he couldn't enter the park, the guard fumbling around for lies because he couldn't outright say "the color of your skin." Shocking to think this was in Montgomery County, my county, one of the most liberal Democratic counties in all of America, arguably. But those were the times. And that on top of all the stuff you already know--the racist senators and congressmen who prevented home rule and all that.

So that was the context in which this march took place. It was brave and unprecedented and galvanizing.

Oh, a third point, tweeted by my friend Rich Yeselson: "Serious question: did any significant conservative politician or intellectual support the sixties Civil Rights Movement **at the time**?" He tweeted this a little while ago, and a few people have tried answers, but none convincing. George Romney. Sure. A Republican, but not a conservative.

Important distinction. Many Republicans backed civil rights. No conservatives did. None that I know of. Maybe by '66 or so, but not when it really mattered. This always kills me when conservatives today try to write things like, "If not for Everett Dirksen!..." Yeah, bub. Dirksen would not be in your party today. Funny how we had in 1964 a Democratic president and the most lopsided Democratic majorities in history in both houses (yes, some of those D's were Southern racists, but they were a minority) and yet somehow it's the Republicans who passed civil rights. Okay.

If any of you can tell me of one prominent conservative--not Republican; actual conservative--who supported civil rights in 1963 and 1964, I'm all ears.