The Dixiecrats of 1948: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will learn about the Dixiecrats of 1948. We will explore why this segregationist political sect was formed, and we will examine the major themes and developments associated with this group.

Who Were the Dixiecrats of 1948?

It's amazing how sometimes you can figure words out just by knowing prefixes, suffixes, and root words. Don't worry--this isn't a English lesson, but just for a moment let's think about the word: ''Dixiecrat''. What do you think it means? Let's break it down. ''Dixie'' is used commonly to refer to the South, and ''crat'' in this case is derived from the word ''Democrat''. So basically Dixiecrats were Southern Democrats.

But there is more to it than that. Dixiecrats were Southern Democrats who, in 1948, broke away from the Democratic Party to form their own splinter political party based on racial segregation and Southern culture. As the Democratic Party became more pro-civil rights during the 1940s, many Southern Democrats felt disenfranchised. Furthermore, many were downright racist, and refused to go along with the Democratic Party's progressive platform. In an effort to maintain their racist views, but still remain ''Democrats'', Southern Democrats broke from their party and founded the States' Rights Democratic Party, or Dixiecrat Party.

Background: Racial Issues and the Democratic Party in the 1940s

Let's go back to the Civil War Era. If you remember, it was the Republican Party that opposed slavery. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many Southern Democrats continued to espouse racist views and worked to suppress African-American progress.

This was done through a variety of means, but ''Jim Crow'' Laws were one of the primary methods of preventing African-Americans from experiencing true equality. ''Jim Crow'' Laws is an umbrella term for all types of local laws aimed at suppressing African-Americans' constitutional rights. Many of these laws prevented African-Americans from voting, owning property, or using the same public facilities as white people. In short, these laws provided for segregation.

By the 1930s, the Democratic Party was beginning to adopt a civil rights platform. Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), who took office in 1933, made some strides toward racial equality, and his wife, Eleanor was an outspoken proponent of civil rights. After World War II ended in 1945, the time was ripe for the Democratic Party to put forth a substantial civil rights program.

President Truman, the Dixiecrats, and the Election of 1948

FDR died in April 1945, and his vice president, Harry Truman, assumed office. In 1946, Truman issued Executive Order 9808, which established the President's Committee on Civil Rights. The committed was created to investigate the state of civil rights in the United States and develop strategies to improve them. This was a very visible act by President Truman, and it drew criticism from conservative Republicans and Democrats alike.

Two years later, Truman issued Executive Order 9981, which ended racial discrimination in the military. Southern Democrats were aghast. Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and other Southern governors met and agreed to break from the Democratic Party if Truman won the party's renomination at their national convention. Sure enough, Truman did, and under the leadership of Hubert Humphrey, a bold civil rights stance was adopted. Within a few days, the States' Rights Democratic Party held its own convention.

Strom Thurmond.

The Dixiecrats nominated Strom Thurmond as their candidate for president, and Mississippi Governor Fielding L. Wright as his running mate. The Dixiecrats' strategy was to win the necessary 127 electoral votes, and throw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives. In the end, the Dixiecrats won Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, but fell short of their goal, gaining only 39 electoral votes.

This map shows the electoral votes gained in the Election of 1948.

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