10 U.S. Politicians Who Have Done or Said Racist Things

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A Brief History

On August 28, 1957, in an effort to stop the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina conducted a record 1-person filibuster of 24 hours and 18 minutes!  A segregationist, Thurmond is sadly only one of many U.S. politicians who have shown discriminatory tendencies and insensitivity toward women or to people belonging to other races or religions.  Here 10 such politicians are listed.  

Digging Deeper

10. John McCain, Senator. (1936- 2018)

The man who was nominated by the Republican Party for the 2008 presidential election said in 2004 (to reporters of all people), “I hated the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live.”  He was referring, of course, to Asians, as he had flown against them in the Vietnam War and had been their prisoner of war, mistreated and tortured by them.  On the other hand, for a man who wanted to be President of all Americans, including those of Asian descent, such a statement is shocking.  While running for president, McCain and his campaign became increasingly hostile to Muslims and African-Americans.  He had also become less than supportive of Hispanic immigration to the U.S.  He does not shy back from loudly supporting the bombing of other countries just about every time the issue comes up and even once sang, “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran…”.  McCain did say that the “gooks” he referred to were specifically his captors and torturers.

9.  Rick Perry, Governor. (1950- )

During the Republican presidential primaries in 2008, it was reported that the Texas governor had a hunting preserve called “Niggers’s Head.”  After that information hit the press, the print on the rock at the entrance to that property disappeared.

8.  Robert Byrd, Senator. (1917-2010)

In his youth, this West Virginian held racist views and joined the Ku Klux Klan.  As his career progressed, he appeared to lose those racist views and became an advocate of civil rights.  When politicians change their tunes, it is hard to tell if the change is sincere or just politically expedient.  Of course, he did use the term “white niggers” when discussing race relations in 2001, which is probably not a good idea. 

7.  African-American Politicians. (past-present)

Many African-American politicians are quick to demand that white men like George Zimmerman (who killed Trayvon Martin in Florida) or Patrolman Darren Wilson (who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri) who have killed blacks immediately go to jail before all the facts in the case are known.  Of course, quite a few white politicians jump on the same bandwagon, perhaps in an effort to secure votes.  Just as there should be no rush to judge African-Americans accused of a crime, the same should apply to persons of all races.  Racism is wrong, period.  (Zimmerman was found not guilty in his murder trial, with the jury agreeing that he acted in self-defense.  Darren Wilson was not charged, not because of politics, but because the facts of the case proved Michael Brown attacked the officer and the witnesses that gave the phony “hands up don’t shoot” lie recanted and told the truth in Grand Jury testimony.  Physical evidence also proved the officer’s version of events.)

6.  Lester Maddox, Governor. (1915-2003)

Before becoming governor of Georgia, Maddox had been a restaurant owner who refused to serve African-Americans.  A segregationist, he was known to stand around for the cameras with an axe or baseball bat as if he was going to attack any black person who tried to attend a school or patronize a business that was segregated.  Maddox believed the African race was intellectually inferior to the Caucasian races and that the Bible mandated segregation.  In his opinion integration was a communist plot.  (To the contrary, the Soviets tried to widen the racial gaps and tensions in the United States, much as the Russians are doing today.)

5.  Brigham Young, Governor. (1801-1877)

A leader of the Mormon Church (Latter Day Saints) and later the Governor of the Utah Territory, Young instituted racist doctrine into the Mormon faith even though Joseph Smith, the founder, had not done so.  Young decided that men of African descent could not be priests, nor could anyone of Sub-Saharan African descent partake in the rites of the church, as they were “the seed of Cain.”  Young also ruled that any white person who “mixes his blood” (has children with a black person) should be put to death immediately.  Thankfully the Mormon Church undid his racist policies in 1978.

4.  Jesse Helms, Senator. (1921-2008)

While representing North Carolina, Helms became known as “Senator No” for his opposition to appointees of Democratic presidents and for his opposition of civil rights of all types, including: anti-segregation laws; women’s rights; gay rights; disability rights; religious rights (except for his brand of Christianity); and abortion rights.  He also opposed the creation of the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday.  He even called the University of North Carolina “The University of Negroes and Communists.”  Internationally, Helms supported the racist regime in South Africa, and at home he did his best to prevent African-Americans from becoming judges.

3.  George Wallace, Governor. (1919-1998)

In 1963, while already governor of Alabama, Wallace, a segregationist, actually stood on the steps to the University of Alabama in an attempt to block its first 2 African-American students from entering the auditorium.  He only relented after President Kennedy sent in U.S. Army troops.  “…segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” is one of his famous quotes.  In explaining why he chose racist politics he said, “…I began talking about niggers and they stomped the floor.,” referring to his supporters.  He further confirmed his sentiments by choosing to swear into office at the exact spot that Jefferson Davis had been sworn in as President of the Confederacy.  Later in his career, he moderated his “beliefs” and softened his stance on segregation. 

2.  Woodrow Wilson, President. (1856-1924)

Wilson was an opponent of Women’s Suffrage and only reluctantly changed positions when it became politically necessary.  He did not, however, hesitate to stomp on freedom of expression during World War I as he attempted to suppress anti-war sentiment and communist sympathies.  He even deported recent immigrants who were not from Western European nations.  Wilson actually reversed progress in the federal government by reinstituting racial segregation in branches such the Post Office and Navy.  Famous for espousing the formation of the League of Nations and his 14 Points (for peace and human rights), he neither said nor did anything to eliminate colonialism and suppression of native peoples.  In his own book,  A History of the American People, he opines that African-Americans are unsuitable for citizenship and likens them to “shiftless children.”  Before becoming president of the United State, he was president of Princeton University, and in that capacity, he attempted to keep African-American students out.  Despite all this, many scholars still rate him among the best U.S. presidents.  His quotation, “Segregation is not a humiliation, but a benefit.” just about says it all.

1.  Strom Thurmond, Senator. (1902-2003)

Thurmond made a career out of opposing civil rights measures and was a segregationist on top of it.  Ironically, at 22 he had fathered a child with a 16-year-old African-American girl.  Even having a child of African descent, however, did not stop this racist from continuing his rants.  His excuse for his racist policies was “states’ rights,” the same reason given by slave states during the Civil War.  South Carolina kept electing him to the U.S. Senate, where he served a total 48 years, and he is memorialized at South Carolina’s state capitol (The same capitol that received so much negative publicity for flying the Confederate flag on top of its dome until 2000 when it was moved to the Confederate Memorial.).

Question for students (and subscribers): Who would you include in this list?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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For other statements made by politicians, please also see the History and Headlines article: “10 Incredibly Stupid Things Said by Politicians.”

For another interesting event that happened on August 28, please see the History and Headlines article: “August 28: An Important Date in U.S. Civil Rights History.”

Your readership is much appreciated!

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

López, Ian Haney.  Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class.  Oxford University Press, 2014.

Stadiem, William and Essie Mae Washington-Williams.  Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurmond.  Harper Perennial, 2006.

Wilson, Woodrow.  History of the American People: The Swarming of the English (History of the American People (University Press of the Pacific) Book 1).  Packard Technologies, 2005.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.