Confederate Symbols at the 1948 Dixiecrat Convention
In 1948, due to the national Democratic Party adopting a civil rights platform at its national convention in Philadelphia which angered many in the South, and President Harry Truman’s support for some civil rights legislation, many Southern Democrats walked out of the convention. They lead a third party effort to throw the Presidential election into the U.S. House of Representatives by gaining enough electoral votes so that no single candidate would have a majority of electoral votes. They formed the State’s Rights Democratic Party but were popularly called Dixiecrats, being Democrats from Dixie (the South). An excellent book on the topic is “The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932 to 1968,” by Kari Frederickson, University of North Carolina Press. Another good book is “The Democratic Party and the Politics of Sectionalism, 1941-1948,” by Robert A. Garson, Louisiana State University Press, 1974, with a dust jack cover showing Strom Thurmond supporters waiving Confederate battle flags.
The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has the “State’s Rights Scrapbook,” with newspaper clippings and mimeographed copies of speeches.
The State’s Rights Party was composed of people from the mainstream of the South, not some marginal fringe group. Strom Thurmond, governor of South Carolina became their presidential candidate and Fielding L. Wright, former governor of Mississippi was the Vice-Presidential candidate.
What is interesting from reviewing the articles in this handbook is to note the behavior of the participants at the State’s Rights Democrat convention and their understanding and use of Confederate symbols versus the printed materials put out by the State’s Rights Democrats organization. The official materials omit Confederate symbols, but you can clearly see from the reports of the press is that the State’s Rights Democrats unanimously, thoroughly, and without reservation saw that that Confederate symbols were the symbols of their opposition to civil rights and Confederate leaders were their movements heroes. Also, absent in the reports is any need to explain why this would be so.
The following are some excerpts of newspaper reports in the Alabama and Mississippi papers at the time. For clarity, the texts of the articles have a yellow background and use Bookman Old Style font. The explanatory text of this entry has a white background and is in Times New Roman font.
Excerpts from “Orators Have Own Way As Revival-Like Fever Grips Great Throng,” The Birmingham News, Sunday, July 18, 1948, page 1, 2, by Virginia Van Der Verr.
Orators Have Field Day
It was a responsive, excited, sometimes hysterical crowd—and the convention orators made the most of it. The magic names were Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. They never failed to bring swelling roars from the audience.
The rat-tat-tat of “Dixie” played by a swing band, raised the people screaming to their feet. The phrasemakers talked over and over about “the dagger in the back of the South.” Recognizing its cure, the crowd yelled back with one, vast voice.
The swaying state standards, Confederate banners, gyrating paraders, all bathed in the unreal lights of newsreel cameras made a fantastic scene.
The Birmingham Post, Saturday, July 17, 1948 - page 1, from an article “Around the Hall—Wallace Pickets Greet Delegates,” by Post Staff Writers.
Hats Go Off for Stars and Bars
The entire audience stood silently with hats over hearts at 10:18 a.m. when a delegation of University of Mississippi students marched to their seats behind the Confederate battle flag.
It was the most impressive and best organized stunt of the convention until that hour and gave the anxious crowd a “break” in their wait for the delayed opening of the conclave.
They were followed into the hall seven minutes later by 10 Birmingham-Southern College students wearing string bow ties and carrying both Confederate battle and Alabama state flags.
Voice is Willing But Mike is Dead
Thomas Maxwell, Tuscaloosa political figure who once advocated “shipping the Negroes back to Africa” in a campaign address for the U.S. Senate took the limelight early, trying on several occasions to talk to the assembled delegates over a “dead” mike.
Lee’s Picture Brings Cheers
Best “prop” brought onto the convention floor was a picture of Gen. Robert E. Lee, carried high by a group of from 30 to 40 Birmingham-Southern students, most of them members of Kappa Alpha fraternity.
The stunt pulled at 10:40 a.m. brought a spontaneous cheer from the near capacity crowd of some 4800 delegates and spectators.
From The Birmingham News, Saturday, July 17, 1948 - front page. There is a photo of students with Confederate battle flags. The following is the caption.
STUDENTS FAN REVOLT FIRES—More than 50 black-hatted University of Mississippi students converged on Birmingham for the “grass roots” convention Saturday of revolting Southern States Rights Democrats. They were picked as “student delegates” at a hurriedly called meeting on the university campus yesterday. “We’re not here on a student lark, but are on serious important business,” said one of them. Six of them are pictured above in the Tutwiler Hotel Lobby. Left to right, they are Eddie K. Wilson, John C. Murray, Jr., Cleveland Davis, Lamar Triplett, Andrew Sullivan Jr. and Bobby Gene Jones.
Also, from the same page is an article about the conventions. “Walkouters” were Democratic delegates to the Democratic national convention who walked out in protest over the Democratic adoption of a Civil Rights plank in the Democratic platform.
... Ruby Mercer, singing star of the Starlight Opera, started the conference off with the “Star Spangled Banner,” and broke into “Dixie,” drawing cheers from the auditorium. She sang a second chorus which the audience joined in.
Something like hysterical excitement swept the auditorium as Bull Conner, Alabama delegate, called walkout delegates from Mississippi and Alabama to the stage. The audience whooped and gave out rebel yells as walkouters bore their state flags and Confederate flags to the front of the auditorium.
At 10:30 a.m., a half-hour after the convention originally was scheduled to start, Municipal Auditorium was about half-filled. Spectators, several carrying Confederate flags, filled the balcony seats about halfway to the rear of the hall. ...
... Cheers broke out from the audience off and on as a band on the stage played such Southern tunes as “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” “Dixie,” “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” A “Rebel Yell” ripped across the hall.
Columbian Progress, July 22, 1948, front page caption under a photo.
The above picture shows Attorney Kelly J. Hammond, local attorney, leading the Mississippi delegation into the convention hall at Birmingham waving a Confederate flag. This was the first Confederate flag to enter the huge hall and brought the crowd to their feet with Rebel yells and applause. Also shown in the picture with Mr. Hammond are Willie Beebe, John Horn and Rev. L.R. Horn also of Marion county. (photo courtesy of Birmingham Post)
The Birmingham News, July 17, 1948, “Reb Flags Greet Wallace Pickets: Dixiecrats Boo Third Party Groups,” no author, Late sports edition, front page articles and photos. One article was about the Henry Wallace (Not George Wallace) supporters being booed. The members of the Progressive Democrats, another third-party, picketed the Dixiecrats and were themselves counter protested with Confederate flags.
Reb Flags Greet Wallace Pickets
Dixiecrats Boo Third Party Group
Pickets bearing pro-Henry Wallace signs appeared briefly before the meeting hall of the Southern states’ rights convention to be greeted by a host of Confederate flags.
There is a picture of one of the Henry Wallace picketers hold a sign with the slogan, “End Lynching - Win With Wallace.” The caption reads, “Wallace Picket Mocked.”
On page 2 of the same issue is an article about former Oklahoma Gov. William H. Murray, known as “Alfalfa Bill” who is here for the convention. There is a photo of two students with their “original Confederate flag” listening to Murray with the following caption. The same photo and caption was also on the front page of the Birmingham Post, July 17, 1948.
ALFALFA BILL HERE—William H. Murray, 79-year-old former governor of Oklahoma and rabid states’ rights Democrat, reads passages from his latest book, “The Negro’s Place in Call of Race,” to a couple of Mississippi students on the eve of the Birmingham’s convention. The college “delegates” with their original Confederate flag are Frank Barber, 19 (left) and Dan Currie, 18.