Has Earned the Enmity of Blacks
St. Petersburg Times, Wednesday, January 27, 1999
© Copyright 1999 St. Petersburg Times
many other African-Americans, I have always seen the national
Republican Party as the enemy. And nothing in recent years has
changed my mind significantly. I am addressing this topic because
several angry readers -- who themselves express hatred of Democrats
-- have asked me to explain why blacks dislike and fear the overwhelming
majority of Republicans.
I speak only for myself. As a young man, I knew exactly why I
liked Democrats and why I held Republicans in contempt. Democrats,
who supported civil rights and voting rights legislation, were
good. Republicans, who always voted against us, were bad. That
of Democratic benevolence pervaded black life. My maternal and
paternal grandparents, for example, had photographs of Franklin
D. Roosevelt on their living room walls. My uncles, who served
in Korea, adored Harry Truman because he integrated the military.
And John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson took civil rights to new
levels, forever endearing themselves to blacks.
other hand, even before I was 12, the images of Republican politicians,
along with their Dixiecrat soul mates, screaming "niggers"
this and "niggers" that, were burned into my consciousness
as symbols of bigotry and intolerance. Not counting Abe Lincoln,
I had nothing good to say about a single Republican until I went
to college in 1963.
of my first assignments in political science was to research prospects
for passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964) and the Voting Rights
Act (1965). I was shocked to learn that Illinois Sen. Everett
Dirksen, a Republican conservative and minority leader, was the
Senate sponsor of both measures and that he worked closely with
President Johnson, a yellow dog Democrat. Without Dirkson's sense
of fairness and conciliation, passage of the bills would have
been stalled perhaps for another decade. Dirksen's moral weight
and political savvy persuaded many other Republicans to support
legislation that would change the nation forever.
of Dirksen, the GOP has pretty much peopled the national stage
with extremists, beginning in the 1960s with Barry Goldwater,
whose 1964 presidential campaign set a new standard for conservatism
Nixon, who despite establishing affirmative action, engineered
what has become known as "Southern strategy," his party's
successful, code-word campaign to encourage traditional Southern
white Democrats to defect to the GOP and to appeal to Hispanic
voters, especially in California, Florida and Texas. After all,
the GOP had to compete with Alabama Gov. George Wallace for the
souls of Southern white folk.
Reagan may have done more than any other Republican to alienate
blacks from the GOP. In word and in deed, he was insensitive to
the plight of blacks. He never met with black leaders and cast
blacks, especially women on welfare, in the worst possible light.
Gerald Ford, basically a good human being,was not in office long
enough to harm us.
came George Bush. During his first presidential campaign, he used
Willie Horton, who murdered a white woman while on parole, to
symbolize black America at a time when the call to "law and
order" meant to fear blacks. To make matters worse, Bush
nominated Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court to replace Thurgood
Marshall, a civil rights icon for the ages. Few blacks have forgiven
the former president for what they consider the ultimate act of
disrespect. None has forgotten.
when African-Americans thought that the GOP could not sink lower
in their estimation, along comes the 1994 revolution and the Contract
with America. The so-called freshman class, having won the Senate
and the House, polarized the nation, making many blacks feel more
unwelcome than ever before. Many of these firebrands have aligned
themselves with militias and other fringe groups that despise
Jews and blacks.
now we learn that Senate Majority Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Rep.
Bob Barr, R-Ga., have associated with the Council of Conservative
Citizens, whose members call themselves "a pro-white, pro-European
recognize such code words for what they are: racism.
at the state level, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas and Gov. Jeb
Bush of Florida are operating as so-called "compassionate
conservatives" and are causing many blacks to reconsider
some old thinking. Both are reaching out to blacks. Both seem
to be sincere. Perhaps both have a hint of Everett Dirksen in
them. Blacks in Florida and Texas hope so.