KC Johnson

History 3442: The Demise of the New Deal Coalition

  • Kenneth O’Reilly, “The FBI and the Politics of the Riots, 1964-1968, ” Journal of American History
  • Michael Flamm, “‘Law and Order’ at Large: The New York Civilian Review Board Referendum of 1966 and the Crisis of Liberalism,” The Historian (2002).
  • Time: article on the Rumford Act:
  • Who is W. Byron Rumford?

    For the record, he is a 56-year-old resident of Berkeley, a Negro, and a veteran Democratic member of the California state legislature.

    But all that is beside the point. What really makes Rumford important is that his surname has come to serve as the one-word identification of the most bitterly fought issue in the nation’s most populous state.In California, the intensity of interest in the “Rumford” issue overshadows that of such relatively piddling contests as the one between Johnson and Goldwater, or between recently appointed Democratic Senator Pierre Salinger and Republican Challenger George Murphy.

    Shock Waves. Last year, in his capacity as a state legislator, W. Byron Rumford introduced a bill prohibiting discrimination for reasons of race or creed in the sale or rental of nearly all California real estate properties. The Democratic-controlled legislature was most reluctant to take any such action. But Democratic Governor Pat Brown put on all sorts of pressures; civil rights demonstrators staged sit-ins and hunger strikes, and just a few minutes before the 1963 session of the legislature ended, the Rumford bill was passed.

    That set off the real shock waves. The 40,000-member California Real Estate Association, long opposed to “open housing” laws of any kind, swiftly launched a movement to draft a state constitutional amendment and circulate petitions, which won a place on the 1964 ballot for what is innocuously labeled “Proposition 14.”

    Proposition 14 would not only repeal the Rumford Act. It would also repeal sections of a couple of previously existing state laws against discrimination in housing matters. It would, moreover, in effect put into the California constitution a prohibition against all attempts—whether by state, city or county authorities—to act against any sort of housing discrimination.

    The key section of Proposition 14 states: “Neither the state nor any subdivision or agency thereof shall deny, limit or abridge, directly or indirectly, the right of any person who is willing or desires to sell, lease or rent any part or all of his real property, to decline to sell, lease or rent such property to such person or persons as he, in his absolute discretion, chooses.”

    What’s It Mean? That’s quite a sentence, with a sort of anti-officialdom, let-freedom-ring sound to it. When pollsters from California’s Opinion Research Inc. asked Negroes whether they approved the amendment, 59.3% said that that was just what they had been wanting all along. But when the same pollsters told the same Negroes what the practical effects of the amendment would be, 89% were against it.

    Opponents of Proposition 14—those in favor of open housing—are planning a mammoth campaign aimed at raising at least $750,000 to further their cause. On their side are such disparate forces as the League of Women Voters, the Teamsters Union, church groups and, of course, Frank Sinatra. Democratic Senator Salinger stopped talking about the foreign-policy experience he gained while serving as President Kennedy’s press secretary long enough to come out forthrightly against Proposition 14. So has Governor Brown, who is not up for re-election this year.

    “The Essence of Freedom.” On the other side, as it presently appears, stand a majority of Californians. For the most part, these include laboring-class people who fear, rightly or wrongly, that their property would be devaluated by the presence of Negroes in the neighborhood. Also supporting Proposition 14 are most Goldwater Republicans, certainly including those of the radical right. In one of the least felicitous pronouncements of the year, Nolan Frizzelle, president of the 20,000-member far-right California Republican Assembly, recently explained his outfit’s stand in favor of Proposition 14: “The essence of freedom is the right to discriminate. Discrimination means free choice. In socialist countries, they always take away this right in order to complete their takeover.” Goldwater himself would recognize this as an impetuous political statement, and indeed the word has gone out from his headquarters to his California followers to downplay Proposition 14. As one result, Republican George Murphy refuses to discuss the issue. Says he:”It is an emotional issue and should not be settled on a partisan basis.”

    By most present indications, Californians this November will vote to repeal the Rumford Act and place into their state constitution Proposition 14. The great imponderable is how much the issue will affect national and state Republican candidates.

  • Time article on the act’s aftermath

1966 midterm elections: House of Representatives results:

The 1966 California gubernatorial race:

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