Rand Paul takes outdated stance on segregation

The Tea Partier thinks private businesses should be exempt from the Civil Rights Act; the same argument as in 1891

Topics: Rand Paul, MSNBC, Race, Rand Paul vs. Jack Conway, Rachel Maddow

It seems as though Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Kentucky, son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, and self-proclaimed representative of the Tea Party movement, has some serious difficulty explaining his approach to questions of race and civil rights. During an appearance on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Paul started by saying that he liked civil rights and opposed discrimination; he even claimed he would have marched with Martin Luther King had he been old enough. However, he suggested that he would seek to end the parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required privately-owned businesses that served the public to desegregate. Just as Paul was misrepresenting his ability to join the 1963 March on Washington (he was born in 1963), he was also attempting the impossible feat of appropriating King’s legacy while arguing for dismantling one of the movement’s most substantive victories.

When pushed by Maddow to explain comments he had made to The Louisville Courier-Journal, Paul argued that the parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that require private businesses serving the general public to serve all customers without regards to their race, gender, religion, or national origin need further “discussion.” He insisted that he agreed with the parts of the act that required publicly owned facilities like public transportation to serve everyone regardless of race, but that private businesses should have been exempt. He asserted that the government shouldn’t “want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies” and that by forcing businesses to integrate the Civil Rights Act was deciding “that restaurants are publicly owned rather than privately owned.” According to Paul, the historic battle to be served at lunch counters at Woolworths or Kress stores, or use the public restrooms or water fountains in those stores was, in fact, an intrusion. For Paul, the desegregation of these businesses was a kind of “government takeover” that infringed on the First Amendment rights of segregationist business owners to say “abhorrent things.”



Paul’s comments echo the arguments made for segregation in his state before the turn of the 20th century. In 1891 it was State Senator Tipton Miller from rural Calloway County, Kentucky who proposed a new law requiring railroads “to furnish separate coaches or cars for the travel or transportation of the white and colored passengers.” It detailed an efficient and cost effective means for privately owned railroad lines to divide passengers that left blacks jammed behind uncomfortable partitions marked with “appropriate words in plain letters indicating the race for which it is set apart.” Segregation was favored by businesses in Kentucky and the new law was a way to codify the preferences of white passengers throughout the state.

In response, a group of black educators, ministers, and businesspeople from Kentucky organized the Anti-Separate Coach movement. They attempted to halt the passage of the separate coach law, organizing mass meetings, drawing up protest documents, and presenting petitions to the governor and the state legislators. They called their campaign “moral warfare” and insisted that they deserved “true and just recognition” in every part of their society. Their battle continued even after the law was passed, and they organized a test case to challenge the new law. However the federal court upheld Kentucky’s segregation law as constitutional, arguing integration would make African Americans “the special favorite of the laws.”

Based on the idea that businesses should have a right to chose whom they would serve, within the next two decades there would be no places for black travelers to ride without unjust treatment, no places where they could eat while traveling, and no hotels where they could stay overnight. The first law that offered substantive relief to millions of black southerners was the hard fought for 1964 Civil Rights Act, which defined public accommodations as hotels, stores, gas stations, and restaurants that serve the general public. Paul’s argument that he is “for civil rights” yet against this “intrusion” in private business, strikes at the heart of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and attacks the legacy of protest in his state and our nation.

Blair L. M. Kelley is an associate professor of History at North Carolina State University. Her book “Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson” came out earlier this month.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>