The Eisenhower Era GOP Civil Rights Foes

After Brown v. Board of Education (1954), civil rights got a renewed focus in the United States, and the first two laws after on the subject, the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, were rather modest. This compromise legislation garnered no Republican dissenters in the Senate, but both times there were such dissenters in the House. All of these people at some point in their careers voted for something favorable to civil rights and in the case of the longer-serving ones it was for anti-lynching or anti-poll tax legislation. These are the folks who opposed both:

James B. Utt, California – Serving since 1953, Orange County’s Utt had a long-standing negative record on civil rights and at one time spread a rumor through his newsletter that a large group of “barefooted Africans” might be training at a UN camp in Georgia for an invasion of the United States. I covered him in a previous post. Died in office in 1970.

William Cramer, Florida – Serving since 1955, Cramer was known as the father of Florida’s Republican Party and he stuck with opposition to civil rights for the most part until 1965, when he voted for the Voting Rights Act. Opted not to run in 1970 for a Senate bid, which failed.

Hamer Budge, Idaho – Serving since 1951, Budge was known as a guy who stood staunchly for limited government. After his defeat for reelection in 1960, he served on the Securities and Exchange Commission and chaired it under President Nixon from 1969 to 1971 and predictably took a less activist approach.

Noah Mason, Illinois – Serving since 1937, by the 1950s and early 1960s he was probably the most conservative person representing the state in Congress and he routinely took hardline positions. Mason’s opposition to civil rights was based on his strong conception of state’s rights and his skepticism to forcing legislation on an unwilling populace, writing “A law has little chance of being enforced if it does not have the approval and support of the majority of the people affected” (Mason). Retired in 1963.

Ben F. Jensen, Iowa – Serving since 1939, Jensen was notable for his opposition to public ownership of power generation and his support for reducing the size of government and budgets, stating “In Congress I am called the watchdog of the Treasury and I am proud of that title” (The New York Times). In 1954, he had been wounded in the Capitol Hill shooting by Puerto Rican nationalists. Lost reelection in 1964.

Wint Smith, Kansas – Serving since 1947, Smith I recently covered as Bob Dole’s predecessor in Congress. On the many subjects he was conservative on, he was uncompromising. Retired in 1961.

August Johansen, Michigan – Serving since 1955, Johansen was extremely conservative, rivaling the cantankerous octogenarian Clare Hoffman for most conservative Michigan representative at the time. Lost reelection in 1964.

Clarence E. Kilburn, New York – Serving since 1940, Kilburn opposed most civil rights legislation. He was quite conservative on domestic matters but was an internationalist, having voted for Lend-Lease and foreign aid bills. After he retired, he was interviewed in 1970 on his career, and on the question of civil rights, he said, “Well, I thought a lot of it was bunk and a lot of it was for demagogues” and expressed skepticism over the impact of New York’s civil rights law (Langlois & McGowan, 139). Retired in 1965.

John Taber, New York – Serving since 1923, Taber long had a reputation as a figure focused on budget cutting and hadn’t changed much on domestic issues since he first came to Congress. He had voted against all of the New Deal innovations, including Social Security and the minimum wage, and played a central role in the planning and implementation of the 80th Congress’s agenda as chair of the House Budget Committee. Retired in 1963.

Charles Jonas, North Carolina – Like most of the rising Southern Republicans, Jonas opposed civil rights legislation except for the 24th Amendment and the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968. The Jonas family had been Republican long before the party began to make significant gains in 20th century North Carolina. Retired in 1973.

Bruce Alger, Texas – Serving since 1955, Alger was one of the most extreme conservatives in Congress and seemed to be under the belief that civil rights matters would progress naturally without federal legislation; he did not sign the Southern Manifesto. Alger also led the so-called “mink coat mob” of conservative women who accosted LBJ and Lady Bird Johnson shortly before the 1960 election. For this spectacle, Richard Nixon would subsequently blame Alger for his loss of Texas, as he had been leading in polling before the incident.

Bruce Alger, 96; firebrand GOP congressman - The Boston Globe
Alger leading the “mink coat mob”.

Richard Poff, Virginia – The only Southerner to be part of the House Republican leadership, his signing of the Southern Manifesto as well as his voting throughout the 1950s and 1960s on civil rights matters seems to have been motivated by political survival rather than racial prejudice. He was Nixon’s first choice for the Supreme Court spot left vacant by Hugo Black’s death, but withdrew over fear of a bruising confirmation fight. Governor A. Linwood Holton Jr. would appoint him to Virginia’s Supreme Court in 1972.

Joel Broyhill, Virginia. – Serving since 1953, he signed the Southern Manifesto and was more enthusiastic about segregation than Poff. He recommended segregation be reinstated in Washington D.C. public schools in 1956. Lost reelection in 1974.


Ben F. Jensen Is Dead at 77; Ex-Representative From Iowa. (1970, February 6). The New York Times.

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Brown, E. (2011, June 29).  Richard H. Poff, Virginia congressman, dies at 87. The Washington Post.

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Hevesi, D. (2006, October 4). Joel T. Broyhill, 86, Congressman Who Opposed Integration, Dies. The New York Times.

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Langlois, W.J. & McGowan, R. (1970, August 31). Transcript for Mr. Clarence Kilburn, Congressman.  

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Mason, N.M. (1957, February 6). Testimony of the Honorable N.M. Mason, Representative, Illinois Fifteenth District, On Civil Rights Before the House Judiciary Committee. Lowcountry Digital Library.

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Schudel, M. (2015, April 25). Bruce Alger, firebrand Republican congressman from Texas, dies at 96. The Washington Post.

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2 thoughts on “The Eisenhower Era GOP Civil Rights Foes

  1. An interesting note about Cramer is that in spite of his opposition towards some major civil rights legislation, his role in establishing competitive Southern Republicanism in Florida to compete with the Southern Democrats originally seemed to have little pertaining to race issues. His base centered in St. Petersburg consisted of a coalition including Northern migrants in addition to Cuban-Americans, who voted for the GOP for their staunch anti-communist stance. Unlike the majority of Southern Democrats, Cramer notably did not sign the Southern Manifesto in 1956.

    As for Broyhill and Poff, both seemed to have been elected on Ike’s coattails; from my understanding, Eisenhower Republicanism made inroads in the peripheral South by appealing to middle-class, economically mobile “lily-whites” that replaced the traditional “black and tan” faction. Given the political climate of Virginia at the time under the rule of the Byrd Organization, unfortunately Poff had to vote against civil rights legislation likely in order to be re-elected, even if he personally had little racial prejudices. And later when Nixon nominated Poff to the Supreme Court, the reason the latter withdrew from consideration not due to controversy surrounding his House voting record on civil rights (oddly enough, some civil rights advocates supported the nomination), but actually because he didn’t want to reveal his son was adopted.

    Another interesting thing to mention was a while ago when neoconservatives (who are known to frequently charge accusations of racism/bigotry at Trump) seemed to overlook a key detail; following the death of John W. Warner, they were quick to portray Warner as a brilliant civil servant with absolute unprejudiced integrity even though the latter hired segregationist Broyhill to manage his 1978 senatorial campaign.

    1. Yeah, the rise of Republicans in the South in the 1950s and 1960s was primarily connected to the growth of the suburbs, which attracted a lot of Northern transplants; the rural South’s move to the GOP was in the 1980s. Warner was much more conservative in his early record than he would be towards the end of his career. How the MSM (of which some of the Bush Republicans are now part of) dealt with Warner’s passing reminds me of what Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed said: “A statesman is a successful politician who is dead”.

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