Power  /  Retrieval

How Jackie Robinson Helped Defeat a Trump-Like Candidate

The baseball great warned of lasting repercussion for black voters during Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign.
AP Photo

“A new breed of Republicans has taken over the GOP,” Robinson wrote just after Goldwater claimed his party’s nomination. “It is a new breed which is seeking to sell to Americans a doctrine which is as old as mankind—the doctrine of racial division, the doctrine of racial prejudice, the doctrine of white supremacy.” He continued, “If I could couch in one single sentence the way I felt, watching this controlled steam-roller operation roll into high gear, I would put it this way, I would say that I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”
In a statement published in the New York Amsterdam News, Martin Luther King Jr. described Goldwater’s nomination as “both unfortunate and disastrous.” “While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to racists,” King argued. “His candidacy and philosophy will serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes will stand.” King issued his statement a month after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legislation that Goldwater opposed. “On the urgent issue of civil rights,” King wrote, “Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and politically and socially suicidal.”  For his part, Robinson described Goldwater as a “bigot” and “an advocate of white supremacy” who “seeks to gain the Presidency by capitalizing on white resentment to demands for Negro justice.”
In the 1964 election, Robinson, a stalwart Republican, backed New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, moderate Republican rivals to Goldwater, before eventually launching a Republicans and Independents for Lyndon Johnson organization after Goldwater secured the Republican nomination.?

“From Dr. King on down, we plan to get out the largest Negro vote in history,” Robinson said. “We want to believe in the two-party system but if Goldwater is the candidate we won’t be able to vote for him.” Robinson was relieved that Johnson defeated Goldwater by a landslide, but he was worried when he surveyed the wreckage of the Republican Party. “We must have a two-party system,” Robinson argued. “The Negro needs to be able to occupy a bargaining position. If Goldwater has been defeated, but Goldwaterism remains triumphant in GOP councils, America faces a difficult future.” As Robinson foresaw, the post-Goldwater Republican Party was only occasionally interested in competing for black voters.