The Popularity of the Civil Rights Movement

Race moved closer to the forefront of the most recent episode of Mad Men and it struck me that one thing the show doesn’t necessarily do a great job of making clear is that in the early 1960s the basic civil rights agenda was pretty broadly popular among white northerners. Getting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law was a big struggle largely because the procedural rules and traditions of the senate gave southern members a lot of ability to block broadly supported legislation. What’s more, Democratic leaders were reluctant to push hard on an issue that tended to split their coalition. But when it finally did come up for a vote only six northern senators voted against it — Byrd of West Virginia, Hickenlooper of Iowa, Goldwater of Arizona, Mechem of New Mexico, Simpson of Wyoming, and Cotton of New Hampshire. During Mad Men times, both of New York’s senators were pro-civil rights Republicans.

And similarly, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and the Civil Rights Act of 1960 were both supported by a majority of northern Democrats and a majority of Republicans. Civil disobedience and mass marches were controversial, the civil rights movement was very unpopular among white southerners, northern whites obviously weren’t free of racist sentiments, and something of a backlash against the civil rights movement would come in the near future, but as of 1963 the civil rights cause was broadly popular in the north.


And specifically it’s been indicated repeatedly in the past that Sterling-Cooper is tied in with the northeastern establishment wing of the GOP, which at the time was definitely supportive of civil rights legislation.