The Republican Party and the African-American Vote By Carl Tate
I. The History
Any discussion on the subject of the African-American vote has to begin with the Republican Party and its efforts on behalf of early civil rights. It is odd that a political organization founded to abolish slavery and combat inequality is now vilified as racist and elitist. Indeed, there are only two options for this change in perception, either the organization has genuinely changed or it is the victim of gross mischaracterization. I believe in the latter and intend to prove it by refuting the former. From its very beginning the Republican fought for equality, coming into existence to combat “Slave Power,” (the influence Southern Democrats had over the nation). The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, took the nation to war for the cause of freedom. Republicans successfully executed the civil war and in response drafted the Constitutional amendments that, for the first time, gave African-Americans the right to vote, access to the justice system and equality under the law. It should be noted that these constitutionally guaranteed rights and privileges were curtailed by the Democrats and their allies on the federal and state judicial benches. Many Democrats and liberals of today love to whitewash the history of the Republican Party or they speak of the Republican Party betraying its history. Nothing could be further from the truth, the Republican Party continues to fight for equality and played a key role in the African American community’s struggle for real freedom in the twentieth century and beyond. The Party worked with prominent African Americans such as Booker T. Washington to establish an efficient black workforce which in turn made up the backbone of the black economy. The Party stood up for African Americans in the courageous fight against southern lynching, while success in the Democratic Party was measured by how much an individual opposed rudimentary civil rights for African Americans. While Republican Presidents, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, were speaking against racial segregation and Jim Crow laws in the very heart of Dixie, the Democrats were marching arm in arm with their brethren in white sheets. It was an economic depression that first changed the way African Americans voted and allowed the Democratic Party to claim that it had always been the defender of American blacks. It was a lie, but an effective one, that took advantage of a nation torn apart economically. With the end of the Great Depression and World War II, many African American returned to the Republican Party and a Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, created the nation’s first civil right’s commission, granting prominent African American leaders their first opportunity to push for real civil rights reform (the commission was first chaired by then Vice-President Richard Nixon).
II. Civil Rights
The civil rights movement is generally believed to have begun during the 1950’s and ended sometime in the mid 1960’s, during which the Democratic Party claimed credit for killing southern Jim Crow laws. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. It was a Republican President who appointed a Republican ex-Governor Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who wrote the landmark civil rights decision in Brown v Board. It was a Republican effort in the United States Senate that gave the nation the first civil rights law since the end of the Civil War. As the 50’s made way to the 60’s the Democrats dug in their heels, and answered the Republican efforts on behalf of African Americans with a noxious document titled, “The Southern Manifesto.” The “Southern Manifesto,” called for massive resistance to civil rights for African Americans and proclaimed the supremacy of the white race; every one of the document signatories was a Democrat. The 1960’s broke open the floodgates and the Republican Party was effectively robbed of its legacy. The Democratic Party was able to take credit for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, although it was Republican support that broke a Democratic filibuster in the United States Senate. The Democratic Party tagged the Republican Party with the label of racist, and extremist, although it was our Party that introduced the first civil rights laws in the nation’s history. It was our Party that stood up to Al Gore, William Fulbright, Robert Byrd, and Fritz Hollings. It was our Party that established government programs to aid black economic growth such as the Minority Business Agency. It was even our Party that forcefully backed affirmative action, through Nixon’s “Philadelphia Program.”
III. The Why
Now the Republican Party has the opportunity to reclaim our legacy in the area of civil rights and compete among the African-American vote. It’s extremely important that the Party do so, not only for its own success but for the success of African Americans. The Party as of right now has established a majority based on its support in the South. The South has allowed us to cobble together a conservative coalition and so long as the South stays in our column along with a “swing state,” the Party will be assured an electoral majority. The African American vote should play a key role in a strategy for victory. Take the state of Ohio for instance; in 2004 the state was won by President Bush by a margin of 120,000 votes with 16% of the state’s black vote. In 2000, President Bush won the state by a similar margin but with only 9% of the black votes. Clearly blacks made up for the ground Bush lost between 2000 and 2004 in Ohio. Similar results can be seen in Florida, another pivotal “swing state.” The African American community needs the opportunity to have a real choice politically. Currently political realities have exposed blacks to the perils of being a marginalized constituency, completely shut out from influence and the reins of power. I liken the black today, to the union vote or the trial lawyers vote, all three have become pillars of the Democratic Party; political special interests that only receive marginal attention from a political party desperate to reclaim power. It amuses me when I read about the NAACP condemning Bush for refusing to meet with them because no one would say anything if he refused to speak before a convention of the AFL-CIO or the Trial Lawyers Association.
IV. The How
Hopefully, the reasons for a Republican outreach effort have been established, so what remains is the how. A few suggestions: 1) We must establish a set of policies, conservative policies, geared toward the African American community. A set of proposals modeled on the “Contract for America,” that includes: Jack Kemp Style Free Enterprise Zones: eliminate corporate taxes in urban, economically depressed areas while offering additional incentives for businesses to move in and provide jobs for residents. Faith-Based Initiatives: compile a list of the nation’s most successful faith based groups and tout their achievements in African American communities. Free Education Zones: an expanded school choice program that would allow public funding for private schools and charter schools and close public schools that don’t perform well. 2) Emphasize the shared values of our Party and the African American community. Not only do we share a history, we share values with a deep connection to churches. Our Party fights against government intervention while standing up for traditional family values. The gains the Party has made in the African American community has been directly connected to our Party’s opposition to gay marriage, abortion and high taxes. I can’t tell you how many people I have spoken with at church or at my barbershop who talk the talk of a Republican but because of forty years of misinformation still vote as a Democrat. 3) And lastly, the Republican Party must keep the faith in its outreach efforts. The Party must be willing to spend the effort and time needed to compete among African American voters. We must be willing to defend our history and correct common misconceptions, in forceful language. The Republican Party has a history it should be proud of and should never be afraid to defend its legacy. Much has been made of our southern strategy but that strategy allowed us to effectively integrate the south, electing President Nixon who swiftly enforced federal judicial rulings. Much has been made of “our” Confederate flag, but we were the ones who fought it when it was flown against union troops and we were the ones who fought it when Democrats hoisted it back atop their statehouse in the 1960’s. Both African Americans and the Republican Party have a historic opportunity and we both should take advantage of it.