Elite conflict and the process of Black empowerment: A case study of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Dennis Richard Searcy, Fordham University


This thesis uses a case study approach to challenge the scholarly literature's assessment of the civil rights movement as a phenomenon resulting solely from mass-generated pressures--or what are referred to as Popular Pressures. Elite divisions existed in Congress which may have conditioned its development and eventual success on the national level. In taking this "elitist" approach, I in essence pose the question: "Were elites merely responding to the movement or were they also using public protests as a means to achieve their own political ends within their parties and in Congress?" In order to answer this question, I examined the vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (HR 7152)--the legal embodiment of the aims of the movement. Normally, votes in Congress would be affected by various factors, including region, party, ideology, or the leadership positions of members of Congress. Did such elite-based factors continue to operate in this case? A Popular Pressures (including Constituency Pressures) model would predict a special case with no relationship between these variables and the vote on HR 7152, while an Elite Strategies model would gain support if these factors continued to operate. An initial data analysis showed some support for a Popular Pressures interpretation of the vote, yet the main finding was that ideology had the strongest impact, despite the overall strong support for the bill. The importance of ideology allowed us to reject a pure Popular Pressures argument that congresspeople voted for this bill solely in response to overwhelming popular support for it. Next, these findings were tested through the use of archival research and interviewing in order to examine the perspectives of individuals who participated in the legislative process and voted on this bill. Indeed, evidence of party strategic activity was found within both parties, particularly among party leaders. This thesis has thus expanded our knowledge of the role elite interests played in the passage of the Civil Rights Act (the breakdown of the coalition between Southern Democrats and conservative Republicans on this issue), and the subsequent realignment of the parties both within Congress and nationwide.

Subject Area

Political science|American studies|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Searcy, Dennis Richard, "Elite conflict and the process of Black empowerment: A case study of the Civil Rights Act of 1964" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9730106.