portent of things to come

Although I grew up in a family of Democrats in Louisiana when there were few Republicans and two kinds of Democrats (supporters of Huey Long’s machine and the other kind), I went to high school in Phoenix where I worked in Barry Goldwater’s first senate campaign in 1952 running against the incumbent Democrat in a blue state.

Influenced or infected by the relatively enlightened views toward race then current in Phoenix, I joined the Young Republicans when I returned to my native state to enroll at Tulane University. I did so because the local Republicans, including several very liberal Tulane professors, were working hard to register African-Americans who had been disenfranchised since the end of Reconstruction.

I did not register as a Democrat until 1962, when I was teaching at Spring Hill, an integrated Jesuit college in Mobile, Alabama. As there was no Republican running for governor, I took the advice of my liberal colleagues and registered as a Democrat to write in the name of a civil-rights activist instead of voting for George Wallace, who had out-N-worded all his opponents in the Democratic primary back in June.

In the senate race, I crossed party lines and voted for a guy named Martin, the Republican candidate running against J. Lister Hill, the incumbent Democrat. I voted for the Republican simply because he was not part of the “solid south” blocking reform and civil rights. The Republican got 49.14% of the vote, and the Democrat 50.86%.

Here’s what I find most interesting about the similarity of the 1962 senate race in Alabama and the one in 2017. Look at the maps showing how each county voted in those two elections, those counties that were red in 1962 are now mostly blue in 2017.

Alabama Senate Race 1962 vs 2017
Alabama Senate Race 1962 vs 2017 (Wikipedia.org)

And here’s a highly relevant quote from the Wiki entry for the 1962 senate race:

The Hill-Martin race drew considerable national attention. The liberal columnist Drew Pearson wrote from Decatur, Alabama, that “for the first time since Reconstruction, the two-party system, which political scientists talk about for the South, but never expect to materialize, may come to Alabama.” The New York Times viewed the Alabama race as the most vigorous off-year effort in modern southern history but predicted a Hill victory on the basis that Martin had failed to gauge “bread-and-butter” issues and was perceived by many as an “ultraconservative.”

Could it be that “Mr. Jones Goes to Washington” may be a portent of things to come here in Glynn County, Georgia (where I live) and in much of south next year?

Julian Riggs Smith

Julian Riggs Smith

I was born in Louisiana, grew up there and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, graduated Tulane, began my full-time college teaching career in Alabama, ended it forty years later in Florida, and have had a home on the coast of Georgia since 1993.