Race and the Republican Party
The stereotyping of the Republican Party in terms of race is a myth that must be addressed for its own sake and for the unity of the nation
One of the more bizarre elements in politics is the manner in which facts are easily forgotten and become consumed by sentiment and myth. As Mark Twain noted, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” This is the position that the Republican Party arguably finds itself in today.
Despite having been the party responsible for the establishment of the National Parks (Teddy Roosevelt), for freeing the slaves (Lincoln) and for establishing the Environmental Protection Agency (Nixon), Republicans appear to have lost the initiative on all these areas to the Democrats.
Earlier this summer I wrote on the subject of the Republican Party and women, but nowhere does the gulf between myth and reality appear more intriguing than in regard to the party’s image on race relations.
The Republican Party was formed in 1854 for the specific purpose of ending slavery. Less than a decade later, the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment formally and legally freeing the slaves was passed with every Republican in the House and Senate voting in favour, but only 19 Democrats supporting it (less than one quarter). It was Republicans, against Democrat opposition, that passed the 14th Amendment (establishing citizenship for former slaves), and the 15th Amendment (granting African Americans the right to vote).
It was Republicans who first passed Civil Rights Acts (in 1866 and in 1875), which would be rescinded by Democrats with the passage of the Repeal Act of 1894. A little over half a century later, it would be Republicans that would push through the Civil Rights Acts again, with 80% of Republicans voting for the 1964 law compared to only 64% of Democrats. Finally, it was Republicans who named the first male and female African American Secretary of State, Colin Powell and Condi Rice.
Despite this, there is a perception that the Republican Party is little more than a white man’s country club.
The issue of race has been totally hijacked by the Democratic Party, yet their history on this is far from pure. During an 1872 Congressional investigation, Democrats admitted to forming the Ku Klux Klan as a way to stop the growth of the Republican Party; Democrats passed the Jim Crow laws and the Fugitive slave laws that returned runaway slaves to their owners.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the slavery-limiting Missouri Compromise and the 1856 Supreme Court Dred Scott case, which legally defining African Americans as the property of their masters, where both enacted by Democrats.
During the 1960s the biggest hurdle faced by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson during the battle for Civil Rights was not racist Republicans, but with Southern Democrats, including Albert Gore, Sr., father of former Vice President and former Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, who famously declared that he would “…rather die a thousand times and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt, never to rise again, than see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen of the wilds.”
It was Democrat Alabama Governor George Wallace who said in his inaugural speech, “I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” This was the same individual who sought to physically block the desegregation of Alabama schools.
This contrasts with the actions of Mitt Romney’s father, Governor George Romney, who led a procession of 10,000 marchers in Detroit two days after Bloody Sunday in a show of solidarity with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the marchers at Selma.
When African Americans endorse the Republican Party they are often viewed with disdain, attacked by the Democrats as being ‘Uncle Tom characters’, somehow betraying their racial origins. As can be seen, however, this is far from the case, yet this fate has befallen many individuals including Clarence Thomas (Republican appointee to the Supreme Court) and Michael Steele, the first African American to chair the RNC, Colin Powell, Herman Cain, and even Stacy Dash.
An intriguing effort is being made in Texas to convince African Americans to vote Republican, on the apparent basis that Martin Luther King did so. A dedicated web site has been created listing African Americans who have supported the Republican Party. It was reported this summer that Romney has “zero support” amongst African Americans, a fact disputed by some.
Membership and endorsement of a political party should be mater of sombre consideration and have little to do with colour. Neither party is pure and in electing an African American candidate the Democratic Party has done much to atone for its past. However, the stereotyping of the Republican Party in terms of race is a myth that must be addressed for its own sake and for the unity of the nation.
Dr. James D. Boys is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. He is a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at King's College London, Associate Professor of International Political Studies at Richmond University in London and a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Policy Institute. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @jamesdboys
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