The Democratic Party in Atlantic City Atlantic City When I arrived in Atlantic City on Tuesday, an observer told me that, except for Senator Pastore’s keynote address, the Democratic National Convention had been so dull as to seem Republican. After the diverting first impression of red, white, and blue convention regalia, of the myriad Johnson litterbugs, pot pads, campaign buttons, perfume bottles, and “Hello, Lyndon” records on sale, what had seemed peculiar became commonplace; and neither the droll appearance of many of the delegates nor the loosely-clad and deeply-tanned girls strolling the Boardwalk could charm the convention city from a middle-aged languor. President Johnson’s firm control of the proceedings had contributed to the absence of the traditional Democratic convention spontaneity. But until the President’s unexpected appearance on Wednesday breathed a new life into the spirit of the convention, a foreboding Republican presence had unsettled the Democrats assembled, replacing the expected Democratic mirth with a lingering apprehension. Symbolic of the Republican demon haunting the Democrats was a gigantic billboard dominating the Million-Dollar Pier and the Boardwalk. Graced by the gray and simple visage of Barry Goldwater, it read: “In your heart you know he’s rightVote for Barry Goldwater.” For the Democrats the billboard represented not only the Republican candidate himself, but also his peculiar quality to do the unexpected: like Goldwater’s nomination in San Francisco, the billboard was fantasticbut real. Despite the evident strength of President Johnson throughout the country and his wide margin over the Arizona senator in public opinion polls, the Democrats clearly feared the obscure, immeasurable forces of Goldwater’s campaign organization, of white reaction to the Negro revolution and its association with the Democrats, and of Goldwater’s ingenuous appeal to the ele Jim Clark of Carthage, who represented us at Atlantic City and sent back this report, says for his own part, after the convention: “In this unbelievable election year, I cannot be so much a liberalwith serious reservations about Johnsonas I must be a devoted Democrat. I can only trust that Hubert Humphrey, as Vice President, shall continue to display the same creative, constructive energy which made him a great senator, and that President Johnson shall show the same restraint in his use of an awesome personal power.” Jim Clark mental emotions of the electorate. Neither exorcism of the profane spirit, as practiced by Democratic orators during the first two days, nor humor, such as a sign which asked: “Would you want your daughterto marry Barry Goldwater?”, could allay the disquiet of the delegates. Officially, the Democratic leaders predicted a great victory in November, but the less prominent politicians were concerned, like a young Californian active in liberal politics, who was reluctant to forecast the outcome of the election in his state. THE MAJOR INTEREST at the beginning of the convention was Johnson’s choice for vice president, but early in the convention Senator Humphrey’s nomination came to be known as almost certain, despite the President’s restraint in giving any hints to his decision. Mysterious clues to Humphrey’s nomination were discovered, such as a sign being painted “Welcome Vice President Humphrey” in the official convention paint shop. Hence the principal interest during Tuesday and Wednesday centered around the controversy over the seating of the Mississippi regular delegation and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Throughout the convention, a large group of youths picketed outside the entrance, on the Boardwalk. Practically all of the white demonstrators were attired in dress usually associated with Beatniks and wastrels; most said they were from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. The Negroes, who largely comprised the pickets’ leadership, were more diverse in appearance; some were dressed in the blue jeans, blue denim shirts, and straw hats worn by Mississippi Summer Project workers; undoubtedly, as a self-styled motivational research expert averred, some of the group were simply malcontents; but many were profoundly committed to the cause. And the meaning of the entire Mississippi Democratic Freedom movement can be comprehended only through its deep emotional and ethical commitment, and for myself at least, only in the intensity of particular moments. For example, Tuesday night a marching mass of black and white demonstrators sang, intensely and melodically, “Freedom is a constant dah-ah-ah-ing,/ Freedom, we must be free.” Among the Freedom Democratic Party demonstrators the harmony, the feeling, the flowing synthesis of emotion and experience of right and wrong is the raison d’etre of the cause. It was diffi cult, on a sultry summer night in New Jersey, reminiscent of the South, to spurn their cause and to adjourn from the sentiment which rose and ebbed, subsiding like sea foam sinking into the Atlantic beach, only to swell and rise with a renewed wave of feeling. Yet reason intervenes, like a mid-semester exam, to shatter the recurrent immediacy of such moments and points to the mundane reality which will not compromise. The misfortune of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party is that although it was right morally, emotionally, and aestheticallythe moving portraits of the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi this summer far surpassed in beauty any of the official art at the conventionit was wrong politically; and this -was a political convention whose purpose was to nominate Johnson and to castigate with the ultimate intention of electing Democrats in November. The continued demonstrations at Atlantic Cityboth on the convention floor and outsidecould do no less than assist Goldwater. The “sit-ins” of the Negroes of the Mississippi freedom delegation under the Mississippi banner served only to madden Southerners and to deepen the bite of the white blacklash, South and North. Nevertheless, despite the probable adverse political consequencesdisastrous should Goldwater be electedthe Mississippi freedom delegation extracted an important concession at the convention: hereafter Southern Democrats must choose delegations to the national convention without race as a criterion. There is good reason to believe that the rule shall be rigidly enforced. Queried about the possibility of free, democratic elections in Mississippi, the Mississippi freedom delegates were pessimistic. “Federal force is absolutely necessary,” said one. “Whether the force be FBI agents, federal troops, or federal marshals depends on the area of the state. It’s up to President Johnson. The way it is now, Mississippi is just not part of the United States.” The Reverend Edwin King, chairman of the delegation, told several reporters that “We hardly know thaf we have a President of the United States down in Mississippi. At this convention we have come to know something of President Johnson. We hope he has come to know something of us, and will act to make us free in Mississippi.” September 4, 1964
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