- Many former slaves left a political legacy that’s been ignored or completely forgotten by their descendants–even during Black History Month.
As they struggled against the violence and racism of the mid-1800’s, it’s likely they thought the inheritance they left would continue to improve the lives of their descendants.
Their legacy is the Republican Party.
For decades, Black people have given over 90 percent of their votes to the Democrat Party. The Democrats can always count on strong support from the Black Community.
But that certainly wasn’t the case during the mid-1800’s. During that time, the Republican Party led the fight against strong Democrat opposition to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The amendments abolished slavery, granted blacks citizenship and the right to vote. It was clear to all Black people who their friends were in the political arena.
And general sentiment towards the Republicans was very hostile, in the south, after the Civil War. Most, if not all, southern citizens had a friend or a family member who died in the war. That made it very difficult for the GOP to get a solid foothold in southern states–even among southerner’s who agreed with them.
Blacks built the GOP in Southern States
This created an opportunity for former slaves to return a tremendous act of kindness to their benefactors and help themselves at the same time. And they did it with great enthusiasm.
According to Dr. Ronnie W. Faulkner, associate professor of history at Campbell University, one-third of the 147 founders of the North Carolina Republican Party were black. Among the black GOP founders were George Henry White, James Young, E.A. Johnson, John C. Dancy, Issac Smith, and James E. Shephard.
George White was elected to the Congress as a Republican from North Carolina’s 2nd District in 1896. Congressman White was one of the first 23 blacks elected to Congress after the Civil War — and they were all Republicans.
As documented in Helen Edmonds’ book, The Negro in Fusion Politics in North Carolina , 1894-1901, the black founders of the North Carolina GOP helped build local organizations and establish Republican voter majorities in 16 counties by 1896. They were Caswell, Greenville, Vance, Warren, Halifax, Northampton, Hertford, Bertie, Pasquotank, Chowan, Washington, Craven, Pender, New Hanover, Richmond, and Edgecombe counties. They also assisted in gaining 40 to 49 percent of voter strength within 47 counties. The Democrats, however, retained control of the remaining counties.
Because of the support of Black Republicans, the GOP became very competitive in the southern states. And they were empowered to challenge the Democrats at all levels of government.
The same scenario played out throughout the southern states. More Black Republicans were elected to Congress and black men such as Norris Wright Cuney, chairman of the Texas State Republican Party in 1883, led the GOP throughout the south.
And that alliance paid off. After being elected to the White House and Congress, the Republican’s passed the Enforcement Act, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1871 and 1875. The Enforcement Act protected blacks from the Klu Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Acts declared that blacks were to receive equal treatment in public places. So What Happened?
So why did blacks switch from giving over 90 percent of their support from Republicans to Democrats? Especially since the Democrats were staunchly pro-slavery, established the Klu Klux Klan, and anti-civil rights?
It started in 1892 when Democrat President Grover Cleveland was elected and the Democrats took control of Congress. Their first act was to repeal the Enforcement Act and the Civil Rights laws passed by Republicans. These laws were replaced with the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws — which severely limited economic, educational, social, and political opportunities of blacks.
The Jim Crow laws weren’t challenged until 61 years later. In 1957, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sent the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to Congress to re-establish Civil Rights for Black people. At that time, Democrat Senator Lyndon Johnson, who was the Senate majority leader, would not allow the bill to pass in its original form.
The Senate Democrats removed the substance and enforcement aspects of the bill and allowed it to be passed and signed into law. But because of the Senate democrats, blacks were still disenfranchised in the south—until Senator Lyndon Johnson ran for president.
Senator Johnson ran on a platform to restore Civil Rights for Blacks in the south. After Lyndon Johnson won the presidency, he restored the substance of the Civil Rights Act and signed it in 1964.
And with television taking a larger role in political news coverage at the time, Lyndon Johnson and the Democrats appeared to be the party that supports the Black Community. So within 10 years, after the election of 1964, blacks drifted back into the hands of the Democrat Party.
Or, as I’ve heard them called, “the Heirs of the Confederacy.”
Black America Forgot its Political Roots
So that’s how it happened. And after being locked out of the political arena for 68 years, Black people completely forgot about their political roots. And during those 68 years, generations of black children weren’t taught their political origins at home or in school. And it’s still not being taught today.
There’s no question that the Democrats have benefitted from the fact that black political history hasn’t been taught accurately over the years. And many in the Black community want to continue to support the Democrats.
But regardless of how blacks feel about either party, Black history can’t be changed. And the contributions of blacks to the Republican Party should be taught and recognized.
Edmund Burke, a famous British politician and author, once said, “Those that don’t learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.”
Anyone who follows the political history of Blacks in America can see that Edmund Burke’s statement is very true.
Ken Raymond is a member of the Frederick Douglass Foundation.
Resources: “The Negro in Fusion Politics in North Carolina, 1894-1901” by Helen Edmonds.
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