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Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech

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Title: Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech  
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Subject: Ronald Reagan, United States presidential election, 1980, Federalism in the United States, Reagan (film), 1983 State of the Union Address
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Reagan's Neshoba County Fair "states' rights" speech

Neshoba County Fair Grandstand. Ronald Reagan's speech was addressed to the audience from this grandstand.

Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Neshoba County Fair where he gave a speech on August 3, 1980. The speech drew attention for his use of the phrase "states' rights". Critics claim that the location of the fairgrounds, just a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, a town associated with the 1964 murders of civil rights workers was evidence of racial bias.

During his speech, Reagan said:

He went on to promise to "restore to states and local governments the power that properly belongs to them."[1] The use of the phrase was seen by some as a tacit appeal to Southern white voters and a continuation of Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, while others argued it merely reflected his libertarian economic beliefs.[2]


Reagan's critics, interpreting the words "states' rights" as akin to a desire to return to pre-race-baiting in the historical record."[4]

Eulogizing on Reagan's death, Washington Post columnist William Raspberry noted of the incident:

It was bitter symbolism for black Americans (though surely not just for black Americans). Countless observers have noted that Reagan took the Republican Party from virtual irrelevance to the ascendancy it now enjoys. The essence of that transformation, we shouldn't forget, is the party's successful wooing of the race-exploiting Southern Democrats formerly known as Dixiecrats. And Reagan's Philadelphia appearance was an important bouquet in that courtship.[5]

Others, including the Washington Post editorial page, contended that there was nothing racist about Reagan's use of the phrase "states' rights" in the context of the speech; inflation and the economy and how it related to schools. Brooks wrote that Reagan had been courting black voters at that time, and he flew to New York City after the speech to deliver an address to the Urban League.[7] In the same article, Brooks does admit, however, that:

"You can look back on this history in many ways. It’s callous, at least, to use the phrase “states’ rights” in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he’d mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn’t. And it’s obviously true that race played a role in the G.O.P.’s ascent."

This caused New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to respond a few days later with an op-ed column titled "Righting Reagan’s Wrongs?", in which he wrote:

"Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, 'I believe in states’ rights.' Reagan apologists have every right to be ashamed of that appearance by their hero, but they have no right to change the meaning of it, which was unmistakable. Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan into a racially benign context.[8]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Greenberg, David (November 20, 2007). "Dog-Whistling Dixie".  
  3. ^  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ "Reagan's Race Legacy". The Washington Post. June 14, 2004. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  6. ^ Stephen Hayward (December 19, 2002). "Reagan, Lott, and Race Baiting".  
  7. ^  
  8. ^  

External links

  • Recording of Reagan's speech.
  • "Transcript of Ronald Reagan's 1980 Neshoba County Fair speech" from The Neshoba Democrat
  • "Recording of Reagan's Fair speech found" from The Neshoba Democrat
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