A.B. "Happy" Chandler and the politics of civil rights
Hill, John Paul
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This dissertation examines the complex civil rights views of Albert Benjamin “Happy” Chandler, one of Kentucky’s most controversial and charismatic politicians of the twentieth century. To offer perspective on his positions, this study focuses on Chandler’s statements and actions during several important periods in civil rights history. Chandler served two terms as governor (1935-1939, 1955-1959). During the first, the NAACP launched its first concerted campaign to desegregate the University of Kentucky. During the second, whites in two western Kentucky communities violently protested efforts to desegregate local schools in compliance with the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Between his two terms as governor, Chandler served six years in the United States Senate (1939-1945) and six years as commissioner of Major League Baseball (1945-1951). As a member of the Senate, Chandler voted on antilynching legislation and on two bills designed to eliminate the poll tax in state and federal elections. During his term as commissioner, the game’s entrenched, longstanding ban on interracial play collapsed when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In 1968, nine years after he had last held elective office, Chandler nearly became the running mate of George C. Wallace, the arch-segregationist former governor of Alabama who was pursuing the presidency under the banner of the American Independent Party. Despite his flirtation with Wallace, Chandler’s overall handling of the important civil rights matters of the day clearly distinguished him from most of his southern political colleagues. Whereas many white southern politicians during the period espoused diehard segregationist views, Chandler was neither a racial hardliner nor a racial progressive. Balancing personal convictions against the political realities of segregated Kentucky, he was instead a moderate who took several positions during his career that quickened the end of segregation in Kentucky, the South, and throughout the nation.