Jay said that he believed Ronald Reagan was not a racist, but it is worth noting the location for a high-profile speech by Reagan, in the immediate aftermath of winning the Republican Convention in 1980. He gave the speech at Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, an odd choice since Mississippi was not in play in that election. The Neshoba County Fair was a short distance from the scene of the notorious murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner 16 years earlier. The murderers were never charged with a crime under Mississippi state law, and a federal civil rights trial was only partly successful. It is believed that some of the murderers were present to hear Reagan’s speech.
In the speech Reagan emphasised his support for ‘states’ rights‘, a phrase popular with racist politicians such as Strom Thurmond and George Wallace, who asserted that individual states should be allowed to choose to implement civil rights laws or not.
In that campaign, Reagan also, in dozens of speeches, popularised the term ‘Welfare Queen, claiming that an unnamed Chicago woman … “used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.” The claim was almost entirely a fabrication, but came to represent African-American women claiming welfare.