The 1964 Barry Goldwater Republican presidential candidacy was the first sign in the eventual conservative ideological takeover of the Republican Party. Though Goldwater was not a racist himself, he had attempted to appeal to Southern white segregationist votes who might be disillusioned with Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation. The moderate and liberal Republican factions were also worried about the influence of the far Right John Birch Society on the Republican Party. During the 1964 Republican Convention, liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller denounced radical influences like communists, the Ku Klux Klan and the John Birch Society against a chorus of boos from the more conservative delegates.
Rockefeller was proud of the tradition of the Party of Lincoln as a defender of minority rights. Nelson’s father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., supported the Urban League and United Negro College Fund. Nelson Rockefeller secretly paid the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s medical bills when King was stabbed by a crazed assailant during a 1958 visit to Harlem. During the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, Rockefeller helped rebuild black churches burned to the ground by Southern segregationists and furtively supplied bail money to sustain Dr. King and his Children’s Crusade during the Birmingham civil rights campaign.
Brooklyn Dodger baseball great Jackie Robinson was a moderate Republican and a supporter of Nelson Rockefeller during the 1964 convention. Robinson had almost gotte into a fight with an Alabama delegate who was angered by Robinson’s chanting in support of Rockefeller.
This was the first stirrings in a shift in African Amercans allegiences from the Republican party. In 1968, Jackie Robinson joined other black Republicans in criticizing Richard Nixon’s use of coded racists appeals to white segregationist Southern voters.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Republicans Eisenhower and Nixon garnered between 30% and 40% of the African American vote. By1968, however, Nixon only garnered around 10% of the black vote. Since that time, the Republican Party has never been able to recapture a large segment of the black vote.