The Tea Partier thinks private businesses should be exempt from the Civil Rights Act; the same argument as in 1891
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.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- I'm not achieving my dreams!
- The most popular Tumblr porn
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Snapchat is secretly storing your photos
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Is abortion about to doom Republicans again?
- Anti-voter-fraud Tea Party group sues the IRS
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Apple's biggest sin: Popularity
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Facebook's hate speech problem
- The Bachmann-inspired romance novel
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Nate Silver: Why the scandals aren't hurting Obama
- How to oust Michele Bachmann from Congress
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Rand Paul is a U.S. Senator from Kentucky.