Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, reacting to Democrats who accused the newly confirmed attorney general of being racist, maintained on Wednesday that “the Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan.”
“You look at the most racist — you look at the Dixiecrats, they were Democrats who imposed segregation, imposed Jim Crow laws, who founded the Klan,” Cruz declared on Fox News. “The Klan was founded by a great many Democrats.”
MSN reported that the allegation is false, even though some Democratic politicians received support from white supremacists in the years following the Civil War. J. Michael Martinez, who wrote “Carpetbaggers, Cavalry and the KKK,” explained in a PolitiFact interview that white bigots in the South were outraged at President Lincoln’s Republican Party.
Carole Emberton, a University of Buffalo history professor, told PolitiFact that Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest spoke at the 1868 Democratic National Convention. However, she pointed out that the politics of that era “are not the party lines of today.” In recent decades, Democrats generally have been more outspoken than Republicans in defending civil rights.
David Neiwert, a PolitiFact writer, offered some more history. “In the South of the 1920s, the Klan was a militaristic and terroristic wing of the Jim Crow-loving Democratic Party there. In no shape, form or fashion was this the leftist wing of the Democratic Party. When the members of the Klan were Democrats, as in the 1920s, as well as in the ‘40s when they were called ‘Dixiecrats,’ they were conservative Democrats.”
MSN defined the Dixiecrats as “a splinter group of conservative white southern Democrats who opposed the national party’s growing intervention in race relations.” In 1948, the group nominated Strom Thurmond (the future U.S. senator who was South Carolina’s governor at the time) to challenge President Truman in the Democratic primaries.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren led the Democratic effort to deny Jeff Sessions the attorney general appointment. The Senate’s GOP majority silenced the Massachusetts lawmaker during a Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, when she began reading an anti-Sessions letter that Coretta Scott King wrote in 1986. Warren warned the new attorney general that he will be in for a fight if he fails to enforce the nation’s civil-rights laws.