In the White House Looks South, William Leuchtenburg looks at three Democratic presidents, FDR, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson and their policies toward the south. Leuchtenburg notes that all three presidents had southern roots. Johnson was from Texas, Truman was from southwestern Missouri and his grandfather had served in the Confederate army,and even FDR was long accepted by many southerners as an honorary southerner because of his residence in Warm Springs, Georgia.
All three of these men held, to one degree or another, racially prejudiced views, which they tended to overcome as they worked to improve the lot of blacks. While all three presidents were intially popular in the south, they ultimately lost southern support because of their civil rights policies. By the time of Lyndon Johnson's presidency, leading Democrats had concluded that the support of nothern blacks was more important to the future of their party than the support of southern whites. Consequently, Democratic support in the once solidly Democratic south quickly dissipated. In 1964,Johnson lost 5 southern states to Republican Barry Goldwater and was able to hold the rest of the south only with black support. The majority of southern whites voted Republican. In 1968, the Democrats lost every southern state except Texas. Apart from Jimmy Carter's sweep of the south in 1976, no other Democrat has carried a majority of southern states and the south is now a heavily Republican region.
Leuchtenburg's well researched book vividly recreates the careers of three major presidents and their attitudes toward civil rights and the south. My only reservation about this books is the author's decision to skip from Truman to Johnson, bypassing Eisenhower and Kennedy. Leuchtenburg argues that neither of those presidents did much to advance the civil rights agenda. That's unfortunate, given that Eisenhower was the first president to use federal troops to integrate the schools in Little Rock. While Kennedy was cautious about pushing an aggessive civil rights agenda, there's no doubt about his strong sympathy for the civil rights movement. I was especially disappointed that Leuchtenburg had so little sympathy for Ike. At the very time in which the Democrats were willing to jeopardize southern support, the Republicans were trying to build support in Dixie. Both Eisenhower and the GOP national committee chairman, Meade Alcorn, wanted to build a southern GOP. Yet Ike ultimately sent the army to Little Rock to integrate the schools. A study of the dilemma faced by Eisenhower and the GOP would have made an interesting contrast to the Democrats' dilemma.