Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech

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Neshoba County Fair Grandstand. Ronald Reagan's speech was addressed to the audience from this grandstand.

Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Neshoba County Fair where he gave a speech on August 3, 1980. The speech drew attention for his use of the phrase "states' rights". Critics claim that the location of the fairgrounds, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the 1964 murders of civil rights workers was evidence of racial bias.

During his speech, Reagan said:

He went on to promise to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them."[1] The use of the phrase was seen by some as a tacit appeal to Southern white voters and a continuation of Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, while others argued it merely reflected his libertarian economic beliefs.[2]

Reception[edit]

Reagan's critics, interpreting the words "states' rights" as akin to a desire to return to pre-Civil Rights laws regarding segregation, felt that he was at least insensitive to the concerns of blacks, or that he even was using this location and these words as a cynical, coded appeal to the white racist vote. Columnist Bob Herbert of The New York Times wrote, "Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair," and that it "was understood that when politicians started chirping about 'states’ rights' to white people in places like Neshoba County they were saying that when it comes down to you and the blacks, we’re with you".[3] Paul Krugman, also of the Times, noted that a Republican national committee member from Mississippi had urged Reagan to speak at the county fair, as it would help win over “George Wallace inclined voters”, and wrote that this was just one of many examples of "Reagan’s tacit race-baiting in the historical record."[4]

Eulogizing on Reagan's death, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry noted of the incident:

It was bitter symbolism for black Americans (though surely not just for black Americans). Countless observers have noted that Reagan took the Republican Party from virtual irrelevance to the ascendancy it now enjoys. The essence of that transformation, we shouldn't forget, is the party's successful wooing of the race-exploiting Southern Democrats formerly known as Dixiecrats. And Reagan's Philadelphia appearance was an important bouquet in that courtship.[5]

Others, including the Washington Post editorial page, contended that there was nothing racist about Reagan's use of the phrase "states' rights" in the context of the speech; The National Review criticized Jimmy Carter's allegations of racism, calling them "frightful distortions, bordering on outright lies."[6] David Brooks of The New York Times responded to the article by Paul Krugman, a fellow columnist in the New York Times, and called the attention paid to the "states' rights" phrase a "slur" and a "distortion." He wrote that the campaign had been somewhat forced by the county fair organizers who had announced Reagan's appearance, and that the "states' rights" phrase was used in the part of his speech, but that the speech was mostly about inflation and the economy and how it related to schools. Brooks wrote that Reagan had been courting black voters at that time, and he flew to New York City after the speech to deliver an address to the Urban League.[7] However, Brooks does admit, in the same article, that:

"You can look back on this history in many ways. It’s callous, at least, to use the phrase “states’ rights” in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he’d mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn’t. And it’s obviously true that race played a role in the G.O.P.’s ascent."

This caused New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to respond a few days later with an op-ed column entitled "Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?", in which he stated:

"Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.” Reagan apologists have every right to be ashamed of that appearance by their hero, but they have no right to change the meaning of it, which was unmistakable. Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan into a racially benign context.[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.onlinemadison.com/ftp/reagan/reaganneshoba.mp3
  2. ^ Greenberg, David (November 20, 2007). "Dog-Whistling Dixie". Slate.com. 
  3. ^ Herbert, Bob (November 13, 2007). "Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Krugman, Paul (November 19, 2007). "Republicans and Race". The New York Times. 
  5. ^ "Reagan's Race Legacy". The Washington Post. June 14, 2004. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  6. ^ Stephen Hayward (December 19, 2002). "Reagan, Lott, and Race Baiting". National Review Online. Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. 
  7. ^ Brooks, David (November 9, 2007). "History and Calumny". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Herbert, Bob (November 13, 2007). "Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]