1948: Democrats and Dixiecrats

Lesson Plan

This history lab encourages students to consider the changing regional alignments of American politics in the post war period. Students use electoral maps, party platform planks, and political speeches to draw an evidence-based conclusion about the split in the Democrat party in the election of 1948. In my experience students find the electoral maps much less intuitive than I anticipated. I found myself spending time helping them to unpack the information in the maps.

Content warning: Racist expression


  • Electoral college maps from www.270towin.com or the American Presidency Project (optional: blank maps for students to annotate).
  • Primary source packet for the 1948 Democratic Party convention
    • Humphrey Civil Rights speech
    • Proposed Party Platform planks

Student task: Make a claim about the cause of the Democratic Party split in the 1948 election, and support it with evidence..


  1. Teacher: Introduce reading and interpreting electoral maps for US presidential elections. Using maps from the American Presidency Project compare the regional bases of the Democratic and Republican Parties.
    1. In what areas of the country were the parties strong before 1948?  Look at 1860, 1928, 1932, and 1944 elections particularly.
      1. Democrats
      2. Republicans
    2. How does this compare to Republican and Democratic regional bases in the last four presidential elections (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)?  How have the regional bases of each party changed?
    3. Also, how did voting rights change in Southern states since 1948?
  2. Compare the proposed civil rights planks for the 1948 Democratic Party Platform.  States’ Rights refers to the “right” of white supremacist governments in Southern states to enforce laws that discriminated against African Americans.  How are the three proposed planks different?
    1. Southern Democratic Party
    2. Democratic Party (official, adopted plank)
    3. Progressive Democratic Party
  3. While campaigning in 1948 the “Dixiecrat” (States’ Rights Democratic) candidate said:

“Dixiecrat” Strom Thurmond, Presidential Candidate, 1948

“I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra [or Negro] race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”

**Explain this statement based on the political party maps and platform planks.  Who did Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats represent? Why did the Dixiecrats split from the Democratic Party?  How might Hubert Humphrey’s speech have contributed to this split?**

Make a claim in response to one or more of the above questions, using historical evidence, in a one paragraph historical analysis of the 1948 election.   

1948 Electoral Map from 270towin.com