Even if Mr. Paul was speaking out of a principled belief in the rights of voluntary association, he was wrong on the Constitutional and historic merits. The Civil Rights Act of 1964—and its companion laws, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965—were designed to address abuses of state and local government power. The Jim Crow laws that sprang up in the South after Reconstruction and prevailed for nearly a century were not merely the result of voluntary association. Discrimination—public and private—was enforced by police power and often by violence.
In parts of the mid-20th-century South, black men were lynched, fire hoses and vicious dogs were turned on children, and churches were bombed with worshippers inside. By some accounts, two-thirds of the Birmingham, Alabama, police force in the early 1960s belonged to the Ku Klux Klan. State and local government officials simply refused to acknowledge the civil rights of blacks and had no intention of doing so unless outside power was brought to bear.
The federal laws of that era were necessary and legal interventions to remedy the unconstitutional infringement on individual rights by state and local governments. On Thursday Mr. Paul finally acknowledged this point when he told CNN, "I think there was an overriding problem in the South so big that it did require federal intervention."
One tragedy of that era is that the frequent use of "states rights" arguments to defend Jim Crow discredited those arguments for decades and eased the way for federal intrusions on state power that really are unconstitutional.
Here is another one.
Contending that only government power saved us from slavery and Jim Crow, it ignores the role of private power – the abolitionists, and the civil rights movement – that brought about that government power. More important, it invites us to believe that government had little or nothing to do with slavery and Jim Crow in the first place when in truth we would have had neither without government’s creation of those legal institutions, with legal sanctions that kept them in place. Indeed, it is limited government, government limited to securing our rights, that is the surest guarantee against those twin evils.
Comment: If Paul had explained the historical fact that it was government power (in this case, state power) that knuckled private businesses to impose a racist law they did not want, he would have weakened the liberal notion that if private businesses are left to their own devices that they will certainly all be discriminatory. That is simply not the case. Jim Crow was state sanctioned racism. It is a historical fact that private owners of streetcar, bus, and railroad companies in the South lobbied hard against the Jim Crow laws. After the law was passed, they unsuccessfully challenged the law in court. These private businesses also implemented the law very sporadically in the beginning until some employees and even management were threatened with jail time if they didn't stop ignoring the law.
Private business did not want Jim Crow.