The Untold Story of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: How the GOP Helped the Democrats Destroy the Solid South

6 Pages Posted: 30 Jun 2008

Date Written: July 2006


Some forty years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 initiated the national government's effort to redress racial injustice. This act remains one of the landmark pieces of modern social legislation.

Historians and political scientists have long argued that congressional Democrats led by civil rights icon Hubert Humphrey and the wily President Lyndon Johnson hoodwinked the Republicans and their leader, Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, into supporting an act that was stronger than the Republicans had wanted. As one participant in the struggle argued, "What a genius Hubert Humphrey was in letting Dirksen think he was writing the final draft of the bill. Dirksen was only switching 'ands' and 'buts.' Humphrey pulled the greatest charade of all time. Dirksen sold out cheap."

Although this account has become the standard wisdom, a closer look reveals it to be misleading and incomplete. True, Republicans did help the Democrats pass their act. But at the same time, the Republicans efforts had a second effect, namely, helping the Democrats destroy the solid Democratic South, transforming it into a region supporting Republicans. This political transformation helped create our modern American politics, at once more polarized and more favorable to Republicans than in mid-twentieth century.

Suggested Citation

Rodriguez, Daniel B. and Weingast, Barry R., The Untold Story of the 1964 Civil Rights Act: How the GOP Helped the Democrats Destroy the Solid South (July 2006). Available at SSRN: or

Daniel B. Rodriguez

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

Barry R. Weingast (Contact Author)

Stanford University, Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
650-723-0497 (Phone)
650-723-1808 (Fax)

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