In the September 2009 blog, Pray and Act Accordingly, there was an urgency in the spirit to pray that God would heal our land according to 2 Chronicles 7:14. The article leads out with “The Church can turn the tide…” Friends, the tide is turning. The first, second and third waves are colliding into a convergence of victory for Life! Now the current phenomena about the African American Community and the pro-life community is escalating.
With all the current hype about why Blacks vote almost 100% Democrat, with Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who is advancing in the polls, giving insight into this trend, this refreshing blog below by Chris Ladd adds another dimension to the discussion. Also, this video by my friend Nina May is insightful, and this video by Rev. C.L. Bryant, along with information at Wall Builders.
CHRIS LADD OP-ED: When Black Meant Republican
It’s easy to forget now, but just a few generations ago African-Americans overwhelmingly identified themselves as Republicans. The story of how the Party of Lincoln lost its black support is long and sad, but understanding what happened will be critical as the Party looks to improve its standing in the black community.
You could start the story in the fall of 1895, when Atlanta put on one in a series of “International Expositions” designed to highlight its progress in recovering from the war. Racial tensions had been growing since Southerners, at the end of Reconstruction, began instituting Jim Crow laws to curtail black civil rights. Those laws were under challenge at the time and there were differences among blacks on the merits of direct resistance.
The organizers of the Exposition invited prominent black leader Booker T. Washington to give a keynote address. The position he took in that speech was a calculated gamble that aimed to improve blacks’ social position by aggressively pursuing progress and abandoning political agitation. The approach he outlined became the dominant black ethos for generations. It was a dizzying failure with consequences we are still working to unwind.
Which brings us to the next player in the story. Washington had a rival in his bid to be the main voice of black America. W.E.B. DuBois was raised in the north and graduated from Harvard. He advocated a much more forceful stand for political rights and dismissed Washington’s emphasis on economic development and capitalism. DuBois founded the NAACP and became a prominent figure, particularly among Northern blacks. DuBois was impressed with Marxism and flirted with radical left-wing theories all his life, even writing a defense of Stalin at his death. His influence would increase as Washington’s version of compromise began to unravel.
Washington’s approach incorporated two disastrous mistakes. First he thought that institutional Southern racism would weaken as the black community began to realize its economic potential. Second, he did not recognize that capitalism cannot function without government protection of basic property rights. In the face of these tragic misunderstandings, blacks labored away for decades building remarkably successful businesses, professions, and civic institutions, only to watch them crushed over and over again by discriminatory laws and violence. There was no hope for economic progress without the most basic civil rights.
A wave of race riots in the teens and ‘20’s were particularly devastating. Only a fraction of the incidents were documented at the time, usually in the form of a brief, euphemistic reference in a local paper to “troubles.” But postcards (that’s right, postcards), stories, and victim accounts painted a clearer picture. Two of the most notorious riots occurred in Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Prosperous black communities were in many cases wiped off the map, destroying generations of hard-won gains. When the Depression came, the brief flowering of the separate black communities was effectively dead.
By the 50’s, as America was bracing finally to confront its racist legacy, the gritty capitalism Washington had promoted was seen by blacks as a discredited failure at best, an “Uncle Tom” sell-out at worst. As Dr. King’s effort’s bore fruit and African-Americans began at last to have genuine economic opportunities thrown open to them, there was little enthusiasm to embrace it. Blacks who had successfully fought to open up economic opportunities focused their continuing efforts on government social programs and poverty relief, reflecting the ascension of DuBois’ approach over the perceived failures of Booker T. Washington.
This emphasis created an opening for Democrats which they successfully exploited. The drift of blacks away from the Republican Party was capped by our often cynical efforts to recruit disillusioned racist Democrats in the South.
What does this mean for Republicans? In spite of the failures of the Great Society era and with little help from Republicans, there is a vibrant, secure black middle class emerging for the first time in America. The growth of black prosperity will be key to the country’s future, but it depends heavily on leaving behind a vision of government dependence with deep, justified roots.
We need to recognize this history to understand its impact on our future. Until a generation ago, accumulating capital across generations, so critical to climbing the ladder in America, was a complete fantasy for blacks in the South. They could reasonably expect that whatever wasn’t spent or hidden would be taken. This reality has left blacks with a starting point in terms of wealth, capital, and connections far behind whites or even other minorities. They are well aware of this problem even if most whites, Republican or Democrat, are not.
In addition it would serve us well as a Party to understand the difference between traditional black and white understandings of government power. For whites who look to European history as their guide, government is a necessary evil to be treated with great care. Its growth should be managed in order to prevent it becoming an interest to itself; capable of crushing personal liberty and economic freedom.
Blacks’ experience with government power is almost a polar opposite of whites’. When central government has been weak, they have suffered. This suffering is not merely relative, but has left them vulnerable to random acts of violence, humiliation, and looting. They have good reason to see government power as protection and to be suspicious of white efforts to weaken it.
A healthy Republican Party, with its crazy-dial turned down from its current red-line, could have a lot to offer African-Americans. But realizing the potential for black involvement in the Party will require us to better understand our own history. We can do this if have the humility and commitment to confront some unpleasant realities. The GOP cannot hope to remain relevant if it becomes a white religious club. Expanding our appeal is a moral and political imperative that can succeed if we have the will.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chris Ladd is a Texan who is now living in the Chicago area. He has served for several years as a Republican Precinct Committeeman in DuPage County, IL, and was active in state and local Republican campaigns in Texas for many years.