Throughout history, Barry Goldwater has been a figure that has symbolized segregation and prejudice. But was Goldwater really a racist, or was he the victim of political mudslinging during the 1964 presidential campaign?
There is no doubt that many of those who did not support Barry Goldwater saw him as a racist. Prominent baseball star Jackie Robinson is quoted calling Goldwater, ”a hopeless captive of the lunatic calculating right-wing extremists.” Even the leader of the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Junior, predicted that if Barry Goldwater were elected then the United States would experience, “violence and riots, the like of which we have never seen before.”
The reason that Goldwater’s opposition was attacking him as a racist was because of his vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Many historians now understand that Goldwater’s opposition to the bill was not fueled by racist demeanor, but constitutionalism. Dr. Lee Edwards makes the assertion that, “Goldwater, who had voted for the 1957 and 1960 civil rights bills, wanted to support the 1964 act but objected to two of its provisions: Title II (public accommodations) and Title VII (fair employment).” He also didn’t vote for the act because he believed, “as a conservative… the federal government did not have the power to compel states to conform to its idea of racial equality, or to dictate to individuals whom they must associate with.” Goldwater defended himself by saying that the act, “does not require an employer to achieve any kind of racial balance in his work force by giving preferential treatment to any individual or group.” Noting that just as Goldwater feared, “preferential treatment, or affirmative action, mandated by government became general practice.”
It is also important to analyze Goldwater’s support for minorities. Before his political career had stepped onto the national stage, Goldwater flew aid missions to Navajo
reservations. Goldwater is even quoted saying, “the red man seemed as much—if not more—a part of Arizona and America as any white or black person.” Furthermore, Goldwater was a key figure in desegregating the Arizona Air National Guard, which was before Truman integrated the U.S. armed forces. As a city councilman he, “led the fight to end segregation in the Phoenix public schools.” (and if there is any doubt still out there, Goldwater was a registered member of the N.A.A.C.P)
Barry Goldwater was not a segregationist, a bigot, or a racist. He was however, a political extremist, and this is what fed into people’s opinions about him. It helped his opponents claims against regarding race seem more valid in the eyes of the American voters.