Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Black Republicans Part 2 of 3: The Civil Rights Era

Thanks for tuning back in for Part 2 of our Black Republican Series inspired by the question: "How in the hell could a Black person ever vote Republican?!?!?"  In Part 1 we went all the way back to the beginning of the relationship between the Black Community and the Republican Party during the time of slavery in the 1800's and we found out that, even though Republicans weren't exactly what you might call "Pro-Black," the Democrats were definitely about 2 seconds away from holding their own national Klan rally.  Now we turn to another pivotal moment in Black Community/Republican History - the Civil Rights Era.


When last we left our heroes and heroines, things were not looking too good for the Black Community in the South, irrespective of political party.  The question that we'd probably all be asking ourselves back then was not "how in the hell could a Black person ever vote Republican?" but rather "how in the hell could a Black person ever vote in the South?  Period."

Not really having too many options in the South, millions of Blacks literally packed up their stuff and moved north to cities like DC, B-More, Philly, New York, and also into the Midwest in places like Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Cleveland.  (on a side note, this northern migration is responsible for the founding of the Historically Black Fraternities and Sororities that we know today).  Millions of new Blacks in the North meant millions of new eligible voters, and it didn't take long for either the Democrats or the Republicans of the North to begin courting the Black Vote, starting primarily in 1932 with Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the "New Deal" policies that he created that incidentally benefited Blacks.

For the next 30 years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement, the party affiliation of the Black Community looked like this:
(%) Party Identification of the Black Community
1936 44 37
1940 42 42
1944 40 32
1948 56 25
1952 66 18
1956 56 24
Notice anything interesting?  Look closely at what happens to the numbers in 1964.  All up until that point, the Black Community was somewhat split between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, then something 1964 the % of the Black Community in the Republican Party drops off precipitously into single digit territory and, to this day, it has never risen above that mark.  So what the hell happened? Why did we all jump ship at the same time?  As it turns out, the answer is primarily a combination of 3 things: (1) The entire Republican Party was becoming too conservative for the Black Community; (2) The Northern Democrats began to take control of the party away from the Southern Democrats; and as a result (3) the Civil Rights Movement was seen as victory for the Democrats.


From its beginning, the Republican Party had been primarily defined and controlled by its Northeast "liberal" Ivy-league educated block of successful businessmen and women. Hard to believe by today's standards, right?  Around the time of the 1950's and 60's, however, the Midwest and Southern baby boomers, who by that point far outnumbered the Northeastern elites, were calling for a new change on what it meant to be "Conservative."  Folks like William F. Buckley popped up and captured the sentiment of that generation when he created one of the preeminent voices for American Conservatism that remains in existence today, The National ReviewThe National Review was like the Facebook of its time; through it and other media during that time period, Republicans began to confer with one another on a regular basis about what it meant to be a Conservative: smaller government, state's rights, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and...wait for it...wait for it...racial conservatism.  "Racial Conservatism" meant being in favor of any and all policies that helped to maintain the White status quo. Obviously, this new ideological wave didn't go over too well with the Black Community (and we haven't even gotten to Barry Goldwater yet!).


As we mentioned in Part 1, the Democrats ruled the South.  During the Civil Rights Era of the 50's and 60's, the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate in Congress.  In the South, the Democrats became known as "Dixiecrats" in reference to the infamous "Whistling Dixieland" song from the black-face minstrel show of the Confederacy. During the 50's and 60's, Northern Democrats and Dixiecrats began to bump heads on, well, just about everything.  Nowhere was their disagreement more severe than on the issue of Civil Rights.  The Dixiecrats in Congress had successfully defeated Civil Rights legistlation in 1952, 1956, and 1960.  They were like the L.A. Lakers of racism. 


Finally, the Black Community had had enough.  On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama and, as I hope you already knew before this post, sparked the Civil Rights Movement, culminating in the August 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr.  The point is this: the entire Federal Government, from the President on down to Congress, had been called out by the Black Community and, in turn, by the World who was watching intently to see how America was going to respond.

The President at that time, Democrat John F. Kennedy, went on national television to address the nation about his Civil Rights bill that he had introduced to Congress:
"We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.  It is as old as the Scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution.  The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free.  They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice.  They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression.  And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free. Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise."
President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963 - National TV Address to introduce the Civil Rights Bill now known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Congress, which was controlled by the Democrats, could no longer sit back and let the Dixiecrats run the show.  Not this time.  There was too much pressure from the American people.  It was finally time to produce some results and pass the President's bill.  Even after the assassination of JFK on Nov. 22, 1963, Democratic Vice President, Lyndon B. Johnson, was sworn in as President and continued to keep the pressure on Congress to pass the bill.  Finally, after much heated debate and a 57-day filibuster by the Dixiecrats in the Senate, on July 2, 1964, the bill was signed into law.  It passed the House by a vote of 290 to 130 (of the 290 Yea votes - 152 were Democrats, 138 were Republicans). It passed in the Senate by a vote of 73 to 27 (of the 73 Yea votes -  46 were Democrats, 27 were Republicans).  In the House there were 94 Dixiecrats - 87 of them voted against the Civil Rights Act.  In the Senate there were 21 Dixiecrats - 20 of them voted against it.

The Dixiecrats were so pissed off about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that many political scientists and historians all agree that its passage undeniably marked THE defining moment when the Democratic Party lost the South forever and gained its monopoly over the Black Community.  Indeed, after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the act, he told one of his aides: "We [the Democrats] have lost the South for a generation."  And true enough, after that time, many of the Dixiecrats abandoned ship and became Southern Republicans which caused the remaining Black Republicans to do exactly the opposite: leave the Republican Party for the Democratic Party.


As if that wasn't enough, two more events happened on the national stage that shifted those of us remaining in the Republican Party either into the Democratic Party or into Independent status: (1) The 1964 Election and (2) The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The 1964 Election came down to Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson, and Republican Barry Goldwater. This guy Goldwater was a real piece of work - Republican from Arizona, reactionist, ultra-conservative, anti-federal government interfering in state's rights (especially when those state's rights involved segregation), and he was known for his racial-identity politics.  His political campaign signs would show a White man frowning with the word "FIRED" written over him juxtaposed next to a Black man smiling with the word "HIRED" written over him, with the following caption:

Did you know that Lyndon Johnson's Civil Rights Bill can get you fired from your job and give it to a person of another race?  No matter what ability you have to do your job...or how much seniority you have on your can lose your job because of Johnson's Civil Rights Bill.  This is your last chance. Vote to put an end to racial to protect your job...your family...your home.  Employers read this: This is your last chance to save your freedom to run your own business as you choose!
Goldwater Campaign Ad, Oct. 24, 1964
The message could not have been any clearer to the Black Community:  94% of the Black Community voted against Republican Candidate Barry Goldwater and voted for Democratic Candidate, Lyndon B. Johnson.  Johnson went on to win the presidency by a landslide victory (486 to 52 electoral votes); Goldwater won only Arizona and 5 other Southern States, Johnson won everything else.

After Johnson's "reelection," the Democrats, who still controlled both houses of Congress, passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which outlawed the racially discriminatory voting practices of many Southern states who used poll taxes, literacy tests, and other tricks of the trade in order to keep Blacks from voting.  This all but sealed the deal as far as the Black Community was concerned.

After witnessing JFK and then LBJ on the national stage with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the 1964 election, and then the Voting Rights Act of 1965, it was safe to say that the Black Community had broken its bond with the Republican Party and was now fully in the tank with the very same party that, 100 years earlier, had ironically tried its best to destroy the Black Community.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the cliff notes version of how the Black Community's relationship evolved with the Republican (and Democratic) Party through the Civil Rights Era.  Food for thought:

Despite these landmark pieces of legislation, was the Democratic Party ever truly down with the Black Community?

Is the Black Community's overwhelming allegiance to the Democratic Party today warranted by the actions of today's Democratic Party, or is that allegiance merely resting on the laurels of these past accomplishments by the Democratic Party?

Why did 5-9% of the Black Community remain in line with the Republican Party during the Civil Rights Era?

Click here to go to Part 1 of the Series.
Click here to go to Part 3 of the Series.
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