Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Poll: Our Beliefs about Their Beliefs: The 1964 Civil Rights Act

Poll: Our Beliefs about Their Beliefs: The 1964 Civil Rights Act

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 13, 2009

I’m looking for input to help me with a future post. This poll is not so much about the Civil Rights Act itself as it is about our expectations concerning the Mormons of 1964: How do you think they thought about the legislation?

You can see the results as they come in, and of course you may comment if you wish. But the real purpose of this poll is to help me with a future post, so I won’t be adding anything more right now.

Thanks for your help!



  1. This looks like it will be interesting.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 13, 2009 @ 3:22 pm

  2. I voted optimistically that US Mormons probably supported the act, but perhaps by only a narrow margin. I don’t remember my folks talking about it at the time, but I think that logically they would have overcome their benign, slight racism to say it was a good thing. I know that once the 1978 revelation came about, they were happy with it.

    Comment by kevinf — January 13, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  3. I’m looking forward to the future post.

    I’ve spent the last three years working on a project documenting the Civil Rights movement in Georgia and around the country. (Forgive the plug–you can check it out at I’ve wondered about how Saints in the United States thought about the Civil Rights movement, both in the South and in the West.

    I’ve talked to my grandparents about their memories of the Civil Rights movement. My grandmother who lived in Michigan said she didn’t think the way African Americans were treated was right, but she didn’t really know what she could do about it. My grandmother who lived in Louisiana recalls canceling primary when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated out of fears of rioting.

    On the other hand, I have read newspapers from communities with demonstrations that cite anti-communist writings by President Benson and allege connections between the Civil Rights movement and Communism.

    Like I said, I’ll be interested in the upcoming post, and in any further comments.

    Comment by Sarah in Georgia — January 13, 2009 @ 3:33 pm

  4. It doesn’t appear that the poll results button is working.

    I was old enough in 1964 to have some clue of what was happening then, and there are a few memories left. The only arguments I heard in Utah against the bill were based on federalism and concern about control of individuals by the federal government: “Some bureaucrat in Washington could tell me who to hire, who not to fire, etc.” Some sounded more racist: “The government could tell me I have to hire Negroes.” (I don’t recall anyone complaining that the government might make him hire white people, or Catholics, or Lithuanians–of course, back then, nobody knew where the Lithuanian S.S.R. was anyway).

    Comment by Mark B. — January 13, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  5. I apologize — I thought I had set this to display results, but I may have clicked the wrong setting. This is the first poll I’ve done and haven’t figured out yet how to edit it now that it’s in process. Sorry about that. I’ll give detailed results in my forthcoming post.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

  6. Judging by ET Benson’s strong influence in Mormon culture, his vehement opposition to civil rights, and the fact that the leadership only rarely kept his politics and religion separate, I’d say most Mormons probably opposed the legislation. But then again, I think it was Hugh B. Brown who gave the quasi-official Church statement during this era regarding the civil rights movement that seemed to be a placid endorsement. It could be close.

    Comment by Adam — January 13, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  7. From reading in D.O. McKay and the rise of Modern Mormonism, I would think they were against it.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 13, 2009 @ 3:51 pm

  8. I was waiting for someone to bring up the D O McKay. My impression was that many LDS opposed the bill as well. On the other hand, according to some, George Romney was a supporter of Civil Rights. I think the D O McKay book addresses that issue as well.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 13, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  9. Interesting poll, Ardis. I’m looking forward to the results and your future post on the (related?) subject.

    Comment by Christopher — January 13, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  10. That will be an interesting follow-up post, Ardis.

    Comment by Ray — January 13, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  11. I hope I am right. I look forward to your post.

    Comment by Martin Willey — January 13, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

  12. Judging by ET Benson’s strong influence in Mormon culture

    How strong was it? The circles I ran in (and those my parents ran in, down at the bastion of liberalism in Provo, the BYU) weren’t much influenced by Brother Benson’s political pronouncements (other than to grimace).

    Another data point: Johnson beat Goldwater by 55%-45% in 1964, and reelected Frank Moss (57%-43%) to the Senate in the face of a conservative challenge from Ernest L. (“Dirty Uncle Ernie”) Wilkinson, the president of BYU. Now, maybe all the University of Utah fans voted against Wilkinson on school loyalty grounds alone, but why did they vote for LBJ over AuH2O? The Civil Rights Act had been passed in June and signed by LBJ on July 2–if Mormons were that opposed to the Civil Rights Act, they could have joined their “friends” from the Deep South and voted for Goldwater. But they didn’t.

    Another thing: both Wallace Bennett and Frank Moss (both Mormons) voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (I can’t find the roll call vote, but all the sources I’ve seen say that all the Republican senators except Goldwater, Mechem of NM (apparently not related to the embarrassment in AZ a few decades later and not LDS), Hickenlooper of Iowa, Simpson of Wyoming (Milward, Alan’s father) and Cotton of NH voted Yea.) I can’t find the House votes by individuals, but Sherman Lloyd and Laurence Burton, both Republicans, were Utah’s representatives during 1964. As I recall, both were relatively moderate Republicans, and I’d guess that both were in the 80% of Republican congressmen that voted for the bill. Burton was reelected in November, and Lloyd lost to David King, a Democrat.

    So, rather than speculate on the basis of Prince’s book or Bro. Benson’s strident conservatism, maybe we should look at how people actually voted. And someone ought to dig into the Tribune and the Deseret News archives and see what the newspapers were saying.

    Finally, there were very few blacks in Utah in 1964–a few in the coal mining country around Price, some in Ogden and Salt Lake, none that I remember in Utah County. So, for most Utah Mormons, the Civil Rights Act would not have been seen as having any practical effect on their lives.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 13, 2009 @ 7:11 pm

  13. I’ll give detailed results in my forthcoming post.

    A-HA! The real reason Ardis “forgot” to display the poll results! :-)

    Re #8: On the other hand, there was that letter from Delbert Stapley to George Romney that surfaced last year when Mitt was running, which hinted that God opposed civil rights by noting that historically US presidents who supported civil rights (Lincoln, FDR, JFK) tended to die in office.

    Comment by JimD — January 13, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

  14. Darn it, JimD, you had to go and expose my real motivations! 😉

    Really, there has been very good response so far. Thanks, everybody.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 13, 2009 @ 7:37 pm

  15. According to my father, my grandfather was racist by today’s standards. I’m pretty sure my grandfather didn’t think he was racist at the time. I’m not sure what he thought of the Civil Rights Bill. But he once bought his neighbors house to prevent a Mexican family from moving in next door. By the time I knew him he had mellowed somewhat. He had rented the same house out to a Tongan family with who he became great friends.

    My father supported the bill, but that is another story.

    Comment by BruceCrow — January 13, 2009 @ 7:49 pm

  16. I’m guessing that outside of the ETBenson followers, most members weren’t even aware of it, or they were, didn’t care. Remember, in 1964 most members were still in Utah, and the Civil Rights Act would not have affected them that much.

    I grew up in Western Montana, where Civil Rights didn’t really mean anything. It wasn’t until the Air Force plopped me down into Montgomery, Alabama for 16 years that I learned about Civil Rights and what it really means. I was ward mission leader/stake mission presidency for 9 of those years, and we began the first missionary work in the poorer (re: African American) areas in central Alabama. It really changed me to see how people in the projects lived, and how life had taught them to think differently than the whites.
    It was a shock for me to begin seeing many baptisms, only to have the white members complain about Sister X being called into the Primary, or being asked to visit teach in a black neighborhood. My wife and I spent many years as the primary home/visiting teachers in those neighborhoods of Montgomery.
    Then, I was asked to start a group in Tuskegee. What a wonderful group of people.
    As I visited Selma, Tuskegee, and other places in the historical midst of slavery/Civil War/Civil Rights, I changed. But it took years of immersion in this to cause the change, which is something most Utah members have not experienced even to this day. And I would imagine that in 1964, their views were often like Elder Benson’s, except that the problem seemed very far away from Mormon Utah….

    Gerald Smith

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 14, 2009 @ 8:44 am

  17. Mark B.’s comment reminded me of a discussion years ago at the dinner table. We were discussing elements or noble metals or something and I asked my much younger brothers, “Do you know what aurum is?” One of them piped up, “A city in Utah!”

    I’ve been mulling over the race question. I cannot recall the Mormons I knew best (parents, grandparents, close friends) making any reference to race with the exception of a single statement by one of my grandmothers that is not relevant to this discussion. I wouldn’t say that they didn’t care about race, but it simply was not discussed. Kind of makes it hard to trace their views back in time ten or twenty years from my childhood.

    Comment by Researcher — January 14, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  18. No sooner did I finish my comment than I realized that I was fibbing. Race relations were a topic of great interest in my household while I was growing up. But despite the fact that my dad employed a black man and friends had a black (Haitian) foster son, African-American race relations were never discussed.

    On the other hand, Native Americans were often discussed. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Me and Mine and other books like that were standard reading in the household, and we were very aware of Native American issues and interests.

    I cannot say, regrettably, what role the Native Americans had in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or what protections they received or did not receive. I believe that Native Americans did not become citizens until well into the twentieth century, but without actually looking it up, I can’t say anything specifically about their efforts or involvement in the Civil Rights movement.

    Comment by Researcher — January 14, 2009 @ 9:56 am

  19. Mark B. (#12) – You’ve made an important point, but one that deserves further scrutiny. It’s important to remember that the South as well as the West were important parts of FDR’s New Deal coalition, and both regions voted Democratic until the early 1970s. Both regions supported the Democrats because of economic reasons, and the shift to the Republicans occurred largely because of opposition to racial and other social issues, in particular busing. Johnson has the famous statement that historians like to quote, after he signed the Act, saying that in doing so he knew he had lost the South for the Democrats for a generation. The West doesn’t get as much attention in discussions of the rise of movement conservatism, but my sense is that the shift occurred at roughly the same time for similar reasons.

    I voted that the Saints opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, although I concede that my impression is based primarily on statements of Mormon leaders. I suspect that many rural Mormons opposed the Act, not necessarily because they were racists, but because they weren’t comfortable with increased federal intervention.

    On a side note, and Ardis, you may already know something about this, Utah played a small role in the final Act. The Utah State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights tried unsuccessfully to investigate the membership practices of a U of U fraternity (or maybe it was a sorority) that was denying membership to Blacks. The uproar caused by this led to a section of the act that excepted fraternal societies, churches, and other similar organizations from the act’s provisions. If you know any thing more about this, could you email me Ardis? I’ve got it on my list of future posts.

    Comment by David G. — January 14, 2009 @ 2:39 pm

  20. I cannot say, regrettably, what role the Native Americans had in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or what protections they received or did not receive. I believe that Native Americans did not become citizens until well into the twentieth century, but without actually looking it up, I can’t say anything specifically about their efforts or involvement in the Civil Rights movement.

    The 1964 Act was designed explicitly for Blacks, although by the 1970s many of its provisions had been reapplied to other minority groups (see John D. Skrentny, The Minority Rights Revolution). In 1968, Congress passed what is known as the Indian Civil Rights Act, which did bolster some civil rights, but at the cost of weakening tribal sovereignty. Native Americans during the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s in fact distinguished themselves from Blacks by using the slogan, “We don’t demonstrate,” so they really weren’t on Congress’ radar in 1964. American Indians themselves, like Latinos, really did not form prominent civil rights movements until the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    Comment by David G. — January 14, 2009 @ 2:46 pm

  21. David G

    Johnson was indeed right about losing the South in 1964–except for Arizona, the only states that voted for Goldwater in that election were from the deep South: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. But Utahans obviously were not pushed into the Republican column by the Civil Rights Act–which suggests (as my old memory does) that “civil rights for Negroes” were viewed as someone else’s problem. By 1968 Utah had become a more Republican place and gave its electoral votes to Nixon, as it did in 1972. But that was in the face (in 1968) of assassinations, chaos in the streets and on the college campuses and a general sense that things were falling apart, and Nixon’s promise to bring back “law and order”. I don’t remember talk about civil rights or federal court ordered integration of schools or similar things. Again, those issues didn’t directly affect most Utah voters.

    Besides, Provo High School in the late 1960s was a perfectly integrated place. If you lived in Provo, and went to high school, you went there. Whether you were among the 95% LDS majority or not, or the 98% Caucasian majority or not. (Those numbers are guesses–I have no idea if the few Mexicans and Indians (there were no “Native Americans in 1969) came to 2%.)

    Comment by Mark B. — January 14, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

  22. Mark B., as I explained, just because Utah voted for LBJ in 1964 does not mean that Utahns supported the Civil Rights Act. You’re correct that there were few minorities in Utah in 1969, but I don’t think that would necessarily mean that Utahns weren’t interested in the implications of civil rights legislation, for both racial reasons and the expansion of federal power. Also, your example of Provo High as an integrated school is a bit problematic, since no western state legally segregated schools. Even without segregation laws on the books, many outside observers (including the NAACP in the early 1960s) considered Utah to be as legally restrictive for minorities as any Southern state. Utah was the last state to allow Indians living on reservations to vote in local elections (I think in 1958, well after every other state) and the state legislature didn’t repeal its anti-miscegenation laws weren’t until 1963 (again, well behind the curve). My point is simply that Utah was far from a racial utopia in 1964, and using the election of LBJ to suggest otherwise is a bit problematic.

    BTW, when you say there were no “Native Americans” in 1969, do you mean that people weren’t using that term? I’m not sure when it was invented, but I do know that by 1972 the term was in in common enough usage for AIM activists to rename the Bureau of Indian Affairs the Native American Embassy.

    Comment by David G. — January 14, 2009 @ 4:53 pm

  23. In 1956, I went with about 70 Seminary students on a trip from Utah to Florida, up the coast to New York, then visited LDS historic sites as we traveled back to Utah. I remember seeing the signs on service station restrooms segregating the men, women, and blacks. It really upset me. When I got home, I talked about it to a lot of friends and family members. They all felt the same way. They didn’t like the way the blacks were treated.

    This is just one example I mention about comments that I remember during the late 1950s and the 1960. Based on people I knew, I am voting that Mormons probably were supportive of the Civil Rights Act.

    Comment by Maurine — January 14, 2009 @ 10:41 pm

  24. I know that my mother’s family (relatives, etc.) all vehemently opposed it. I know that my father’s family was fairly split.

    (My mother, though, is generally apolitical. And my father oscillates between his love for unions and Rush Limbaugh.)

    Comment by queuno — January 17, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  25. When is the future post going to happen?

    Comment by Jeremy Jensen — October 16, 2009 @ 2:55 pm

  26. What can I say, Jeremy? “In the future”? :)

    Honestly, I had something in mind when I posted the poll, something to do with an article in a 1964 or ’65 issue of the Improvement Era. It surprised me that the article spoke as highly of the Civil Rights Act as it did, because all of my adult life I’ve had it drummed into me that we were racists, all racists, and nothing but racists, and I wondered if others had the same experience.

    My idea was something about how what matters today can color and distort our impressions of what happened yesterday, but I decided that was too heavy to attack in a single post. Maybe I’ll still dig out the editorial and post it, though. It’s still in my mile-high stack of potential posts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 16, 2009 @ 3:54 pm