Flashback Friday: The Civil Rights Act of 1960

Civil Rights protests in Tallahassee from Florida Memory.

The Civil Rights Act of 1960, Lyndon Johnson’s late attempt to try and win over northern liberals in his Presidential quest has been long forgotten. LBJ has shepherded through the Civil Rights Act of 1957 the first major piece of anti-discrimination legislation passed since 1875 – but one that had been severely gutted in its effectiveness by Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader and his alliance with Southern Democrats. In order to stop Richard Russell (D-Georgia) and his allies from filibustering the bill as they had every other piece of anti-lynching or ant–discrimination legislation since the 1930’s, Johnson dropped the teeth of the bill in Section 3 related to trials of those who infringed on the voting rights of African-Americans.

The GOP led by Vice President Richard Nixon (a more moderate Nixon in those days) saw Civil Rights as a potential winning issue and had pushed for passage of legislation. President Eisenhower wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, but Nixon eyeing 1960 and the Presidency himself had determined the African-American vote would be critical. Nixon had enough influence with Republican lawmakers that he pushed most of them into a pro-Civil Rights posture (something Nixon would do the opposite of when he actually became President more than a decade later but by that time the playing field had completely changed). Johnson understood this play by Nixon and sought to appear sympathetic to the legislation Nixon was pushing while not betraying his southern roots and Democrats from the region.

So LBJ outfoxed the GOP and Nixon making a deal with the south to drop the filibusterer and appearing at least to some liberals as an ally. But two plus years after implementation it was obvious the Civil Rights Avt of 1957 didn’t have enough teeth and liberals mistrust of LBJ was great. Most favored John F. Kennedy or Hubert Humphrey but were LBJ to be nominated it’s possible some northern liberals as well most African-Americans were going to defect to Nixon who at the time had positioned himself to the left of many in his party on Civil Rights issues. An attempt to enforce voting rights and punish those who restricted it was passed as part of the 1960 bill to give LBJ some sort of “cred” with northern liberals. But like the 1957 legislation it was token and real impacts wouldn’t happen until the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act both pushed by LBJ as President.  But LBJ couldn’t shake the southern label in 1960 and was defeated for the nomination by John F. Kennedy. Despite JFK’s popularity with African-Americans, Nixon still did get about a third of the black vote the second highest percentage Republicans have gotten of that group since the New Deal began (elections from 1932 to 2016). This owed itself as much to LBJ and the Democratic Senate’s inaction in taking on segregation than Nixon himself, though his sympathy for Civil Rights didn’t hurt. Four years later, GOP nominee Barry Goldwater got only 5% of the African-American vote.

Florida vote on the 1960 Amendment in the House is below. Only Dante Fascell representing Miami voted with every northern Democrat and the majority of GOPers. The rest of the delegation in 1960 remained squarely allied southern segregationist Democrats. William Cramer of St Pete, the state’s lone Republican Congressman who had a better record on Civil Rights than all but a handful of Florida Democrats at the time did vote with the segregationists on this issue however.



Nay   R   Cramer, William FL 1st
Nay   D   Bennett, Charles FL 2nd
Nay   D   Sikes, Robert FL 3rd
Yea   D   Fascell, Dante FL 4th
Nay   D   Herlong, Albert FL 5th
Nay   D   Rogers, Paul FL 6th
Nay   D   Haley, James FL 7th
Nay   D   Matthews, Billy FL 8th
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