Lily-white movement

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The lily-white movement was an all-white faction of the Republican Party in the Southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It battled and usually defeated the biracial element called the Black-and-tan faction.

During Reconstruction, following the U.S. Civil War, black leaders in Texas and around the country gained increasing influence in the Republican Party by organizing blacks as an important voting bloc. Conservative whites attempted to eliminate this influence and recover white voters who had defected to the Democratic Party. The effort was largely successful in eliminating African-American influence in the Republican Party leading to black voters predominantly migrating to the Democratic Party for much of the 20th century.

The term lily-white movement was coined by Texas Republican leader Norris Wright Cuney, who used the term in an 1888 Republican convention to describe efforts by white conservatives to oust blacks from positions of Texas party leadership and incite riots to divide the party.[1] The term came to be used nationally to describe this ongoing movement as it further developed in the early 20th century,[2] including through the administration of Herbert Hoover. Localized movements began immediately after the war but by the beginning of the 20th century the effort had become national.

According to author and professor Michael K. Fauntroy,[3]

The lily white movement is one of the darkest and underexamined eras of US Republicanism.

— Michael K. Faultroy, The Huffington Post


Freedmen obtained the vote in the South from Congress in 1867 and joined the Republican Party. During Reconstruction, Union Leagues were formed across the South after 1867 as all-black working auxiliaries of the Republican Party. They were secret organizations that mobilized freedmen to register to vote and to vote Republican. They discussed political issues, promoted civic projects, and mobilized workers opposed to certain employers. Most branches were segregated but there were a few that were racially integrated. The leaders of the all-black units were mostly urban blacks from the North, who had never been slaves. Eric Foner reports:

By the end of 1867 it seemed that virtually every black voter in the South had enrolled in the Union League, the Loyal League, or some equivalent local political organization. Meetings were generally held in a black church or school.[4]

The activities of the Union League outraged white Democrats. The first Ku Klux Klan targeted violence against black Republican leaders and seriously undercut the Union League.[5]

Numerous African Americans were elected to the Congress from the South, all as members of the Republican party. The Party was a voting coalition of Freedmen (freed slaves), Carpetbaggers (recent arrivals from the North), and Scalawags (Southern whites, especially men who had been Unionists in the War). In Texas, blacks comprised 90% of the party members during the 1880s.[6]

Republican factionalism[edit]

From the beginning of Reconstruction, conservative Southern white factions fought against factions of blacks and liberal white factions for control of the Republican Party. White Republican leaders became increasingly concerned about the exodus of white voters in other parts of the country, some out of concerns for the strength of the party and some for purely racist reasons.

Blacks increasingly demanded more and more offices at the expense of the Scalawags. The more numerous black-and-tan element typically won the factional battles; many Scalawags joined the lily-white faction or switched to the Democrats.[7][8]

Following the death of Texas Republican leader Edmund J. Davis in 1883, black civil rights leader Norris Wright Cuney rose to the Republican chairmanship in Texas, becoming the national committeeman in 1889.[9] While blacks were a minority overall in Texas, Cuney's rise to this position caused a backlash among white conservative Republicans in other areas, leading to the lily-white movement's becoming a more organized, nationwide effort.

Black disfranchisement in Southern states[edit]

Norris Wright Cuney, Texas Republican chairman, in 1888 coined the term lily-white movement to describe efforts by white conservatives to oust blacks from positions of party leadership and incite riots to divide the party.[10] Increasingly organized efforts by the Lily-White this movement gradually eliminated black leaders from the party. The writer Michael Fauntroy contends that the effort was coordinated with Democrats as part of a larger movement toward disenfranchisement of blacks in the South at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century by increasing restrictions in voter registration rules.[11]

By 1890 the Democratic Party had gained control of all state legislatures in the South (with a few brief exceptions as in North Carolina.) . From 1890 to 1908, they accomplished disenfranchisement of blacks and, in some states, many poor whites. Despite repeated legal challenges and some successes by the NAACP, the Democrats continued to devise new ways to limit black electoral participation, such as white primaries, through the 1960s.[12]

Nationally, the Republican Party tried to respond to black interests.[13][14] For instance, Republicans had repeatedly proposed federal legislation to prohibit lynching, which was always defeated by the Southern block. In 1920 Republicans made opposition to lynching part of their platform at the Republican National Convention. Lynchings, primarily of black men in the South, had increased in the decades around the turn of the 20th century. Leonidas C. Dyer, a white Republican Representative from St. Louis, Missouri, worked with the NAACP to introduce an anti-lynching bill into the House, where he gained strong passage in 1922. His effort was defeated by the Southern Democratic block in the Senate, which filibustered the bill that year, and in 1923 and 1924.[15]

In the 1870s through early 1890s, Democrats in Southern states used various methods to suppress the vote of blacks, largely intimidation, violence and fraud. Republicans responded by challenging the election results and overturning them in order to count the votes of blacks. This was much more successful when Republicans held an uncontested majority of the US House than otherwise. (Compare the 13 successful challenges of Southern election results in the 54th House of Representatives, with a Republican majority, to the only single successful challenge in the 52nd House, with a Democratic majority.

In the 1890-1908 era, Southern Democrats effectively ended most black voting through the use of poll taxes, and literacy requirements. The term of the last black Congressman of this era, George Henry White, expired in 1901.

Downfall of black Republicans[edit]

By the beginning of the 20th century, black political influence was in freefall. During the first three decades of the 20th century, no blacks served in the U.S. Congress due to their disenfranchisement across the South.[16] By the 1920s, the lily-white movement had largely succeeded in establishing almost total white supremacy in the party. Black leaders were barred in 1922 from the Virginia Republican Congressional Convention (the state had imposed racial segregation of public places and disenfranchised most blacks by this time.[17]

One of the Black and Tan partisans who continued to hold appointed office was Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, the customs inspector and later comptroller of customs. He gained appointments from four Republican presidents and continued in office through the Calvin Coolidge administration.[18]

During the NAACP national convention in 1926, the black delegates expressed their disappointment with the party.

“Our political salvation and our social survival lie in our absolute independence of party allegiance in politics and the casting of our vote for our friends and against our enemies whoever they may be and whatever party labels they carry.”[19]


Starting in the 1870s Southern Republicans were divided into two factions: the lily-white faction and the black-and-tan faction.[20]

The black-and-tan faction was biracial. It sought to include most African-American voters within the party. They often took a prominent part in the national conventions of the Republican party. One reason for the continuance of the black-and-tan faction was its success in holding the African-American Republican vote in northern states. The black-and-tans predominated in counties with large black populations, as the whites in these counties were usually Democrats. The lily-whites were found mostly in the counties where fewer blacks lived.

The factionalism flared up in 1928,[21] when Herbert Hoover tried to appeal to southern whites; and 1952.[22]

The surviving Black-and-tan factions lost heavily in 1964 and practically vanished. Due to Democratic support of the civil rights movement and Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with strong support by President Lyndon B. Johnson, many African Americans shifted to vote for Democratic candidates.[23] The following year Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those African Americans remaining in the South, after millions had left during the waves of the Great Migration since the beginning of the century, mostly joined the Democratic Party.

Important figures[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Myrdal (1996), pg. 478
  2. ^ "NEGROES LOSE FIGHT IN NORTH CAROLINA; Pritchard's "Lilly Whites" Recognized by the President. Politicians in Washington Are Puzzled by Contradictory Aspects of Mr. Roosevelt's Policy in the South". New York Times. 17 February 1903. 
  3. ^ Fauntroy (2007), pg. 164
    Fauntroy, Michael (4 January 2007). "Republicans and the Black Vote". Huffington Post. 
  4. ^ Eric Foner, "Black Reconstruction Leaders at the Grass Roots" in Leon F. Litwack and August Meier, eds. (1991). Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. p. 221. 
  5. ^ Steven Hahn, A nation under our feet: Black political struggles in the rural South, from slavery to the great migration (2003). pp 165-205
  6. ^ Lily-white movement from the Handbook of Texas Online
  7. ^ Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins, The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865-1881 (University of Alabama Press, 1977).
  8. ^ Frank J. Wetta, The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism during the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012)
  9. ^ Lily-white movement from the Handbook of Texas Online
  10. ^ Myrdal, Gunnar; Bok, Sissela (1944). An American dilemma: the Negro problem and modern democracy. p. 478. 
  11. ^ Fauntroy, Michael K. (2007). Republicans and the Black Vote. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 43. ... lily whites worked with Democrats to disenfranchise African Americans. 
  12. ^ Michael Perman, Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (2001)
  13. ^ Lewis L. Gould, The Republicans: A History of the Grand Old Party (2014)
  14. ^ Vincent P. De Santis, Republicans face the southern question: The new departure years, 1877-1897 (1959).
  15. ^ George C. Rable, "The South and the Politics of Antilynching Legislation, 1920-1940." Journal of Southern History 51.2 (1985): 201-220. in JSTOR
  16. ^ "The Negroes' Temporary Farewell: Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929". Black Americans in Congress (House of Representatives). Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
  17. ^ "Virginia Party Politics". Virginia Center for Digital History (University of Virginia). Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
    "NEGROES AGAIN BARRED FROM G.O.P. CONVENTION". Daily Progress. July 23, 1922. 
  18. ^ Louisiana Historical Association. "A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography". Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  19. ^ ""The Negroes' Temporary Farewell": Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929" (PDF). Black Americans in Congress (House of Representatives). p. 30. 
  20. ^ "Black and Tan Republicans" in Andrew Cunningham McLaughlin and Albert Bushnell Hart, eds. Cyclopedia of American Government (1914), p. 133. online
  21. ^ Lisio, Donald J. (2012). Hoover, Blacks, and Lily-Whites: A Study of Southern Strategies. U North Carolina Press. p. 37ff. 
  22. ^ Marty Cohen; et al. (2009). The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. p. 118. 
  23. ^ Robert David Johnson (2009). All the Way with LBJ: The 1964 Presidential Election. p. 84. 
  24. ^ Donald J. Lisio, Hoover, Blacks, & Lily-Whites: A Study of Southern Strategies (1985)
  25. ^ Hales (2003), pg. 40
  26. ^ Spragens (1988), pg. 196-198
  27. ^ Kevern J. Verney, The Art of the Possible: Booker T. Washington and Black Leadership in the United States, 1881-1925 (2013).

Further reading[edit]

  • Abbott, Richard H. The Republican Party and the South, 1855–1877 (University of North Carolina Press, 1986),
  • Lily-white movement from the Handbook of Texas Online
  • Brady, Robert A. (2008). Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007 (House Document No. 108-224). U.S. Government Printing Office. 
  • Casdorph, Paul D. Republicans, Negroes, and Progressives in the South, 1912-1916 (University of Alabama Press, 1981). online
  • Fauntroy, Michael K. (2007). Republicans and the Black vote. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 1-58826-470-X. 
  • Hales, Douglas (2003). "3: Political Education, 1869-83". A southern family in white & Black: the Cuneys of Texas. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 1-58544-200-3. 
  • Heersink, Boris, and Jeffery A. Jenkins. "Southern Delegates and Republican National Convention Politics, 1880–1928." Studies in American Political Development 29#1 (2015): 68-88. online
  • Hume, Richard L. and Jerry B. Gough. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags: The Constitutional Conventions of Radical Reconstruction (LSU Press, 2008); statistical classification of delegates.
  • Jenkins, Jeffery A., and Boris Heersink. "Republican Party Politics and the American South: From Reconstruction to Redemption, 1865-1880." (2016 paper t the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association); online.
  • Lisio, Donald J. Hoover, Blacks, & Lily-Whites: A Study of Southern Strategies (1985) online
  • Myrdal, Gunnar; Bok, Sissela (1944). An American dilemma: the Negro problem and modern democracy. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 1-56000-856-3. 
  • Spragen, William C. (1988). "8: Theodore Roosevelt". Popular images of American presidents. Greenwood Publishing Group. 
  • Trelease, Allen W. "Who were the Scalawags?." Journal of Southern History 29.4 (1963): 445-468. in JSTOR
  • Valelly, Richard M. The two reconstructions: The struggle for black enfranchisement (U of Chicago Press, 2009).
  • Walton, Hanes. Black Republicans: The politics of the black and tans (Scarecrow Press, 1975).
  • Ward, Judson C. "The Republican Party in Bourbon Georgia, 1872-1890." Journal of Southern History 9.2 (1943): 196-209. in JSTOR
  • Watts, Eugene J. "Black Political Progress in Atlanta: 1868-1895," Journal of Negro History (1974) 59#3 pp. 268–286 in JSTOR
  • Wetta, Frank J. The Louisiana Scalawags: Politics, Race, and Terrorism during the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012) online review
  • Wiggins, Sarah Woolfolk. The Scalawag in Alabama Politics, 1865–1881 (U of Alabama Press, 1977).

Primary sources[edit]

  • Link, Arthur S. "Correspondence Relating to the Progressive Party's 'Lily White' Policy in 1912." Journal of Southern History 10.4 (1944): 480-490. in JSTOR