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Legend vs. fact

In a film clip from the movie “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott said to Ransom Stoddard, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” (The clip can be found on YouTube.)

However, when you are working with history, the facts take precedence. It doesn’t matter what your parents, your teachers or professors told you, it is imperative to research for yourself. In the age of the Internet it’s easy to locate credible sources and that is what historians do, using primary sources whenever possible. A roll call vote of U.S. Senators qualifies as primary as it’s a matter of legal record.

In an earlier column, I mentioned the fact that Democrats had one main goal — reestablishing white supremacy. Why else would they create the Ku Klux Klax and be adamantly opposed to integration? A reader responded, “Almost all the Southern Democratic members of Congress switched parties and became Republicans.” In this case the legend is that a great many Republicans and Democrats switched parties after the Civil Rights Vote in 1965. This is a myth that Democrats like to promulgate. It is simply not true.

I did my due diligence and found the roll call vote tally of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on May 26, 1965. The interesting facts that showed up with this information from both the National Archives and Bioguideretrocongress.gov belies what the reader said. In the latter post is a list of “statistically notable votes,” which is explained by the site as “the votes that are most surprising, or at least predictable, given how other members of each party voted.”

Bioguide lists 20 of those notable voters. With a bit of time I found that one U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina, was elected as a Democrat in 1956 and in September 1964, he switched to the Republican Party and remained in that party until he was out of Congress in 2003. One Republican, John Tower, Texas, voted against the Voting Rights Act. The other 18 notable voters were Democrats when they voted against that act and remained Democrats until they were out of Congress. Names readers might recognize in this group are: James Fulbright, Arkansas, Richard Russell, Georgia, Herman Talmadge, Georgia, Russell Long, Louisiana, Sam Ervin, North Carolina and Harry Byrd, Virginia.

Further, the reader wrote, “…many Republicans in the northeast switched parties and became Democrats.” Again, back to the facts, which were located on Congress.gov and Gov.Track.us. Using the list of Senators from the northeast who voted on the act, including the states of Connecticutt, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and New York, not one of them changed parties after that vote. Whether Democrat or Republican, every one of them retained their party affiliation and many of them served in Congress 20 to 30 or more years.

Again, this is all a matter of historical record; it’s not opinion nor politics. As Ronald Reagan said when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Gorbachev, “Trust but verify.” ❖


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