By Don Strasser
— After almost 150 years of emancipation, it’s a relief to know that the writer of the Dec. 15 My View article opposes slavery, but he falls a wee bit short in defending Republicans against charges of racism.
A quick check of the internet shows a Republican congressman referred to President Obama as a “boy”, a Republican activist in South Carolina compared Michelle Obama to a gorilla, a staffer for a Republican state senator in Tennessee depicted Obama surrounded by fried chicken, watermelons and food stamps, a Republican councilman in California suggested that if Sarah Palin posed for Playboy, then Michelle Obama should pose for National Geographic, and Colorado Republican Doug Lamborn called Obama a “tar baby”.
In March 2010, angry Tea Party protesters outside the Capitol Building called black Democratic congresspersons the N-word and spat upon black Democratic congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.
These were actual incidents reported in the national media which outraged Democrats.
The writer’s “cursory review of race relations” is deceptively selective. Every professional historian knows the Compromise of 1877 ended Reconstruction in the South, resulting in the loss of civil rights for black southerners and even the denial to a certain degree of their very humanity. Many northern Republicans acquiesced in this.
During the 1930s and 1940s, liberal northern Democrats, such as Hubert Humphrey, began to support civil rights for blacks and to court the black vote .Undeniably Republican Herbert Hoover ran a “lily white” campaign, Republican Richard Nixon pursued a “southern strategy” and used the code words “law and order.”
After his presidential nomination in 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan gave his first public speech near Philadelphia, Miss., the site of the murder of three civil rights activists in 1964. There Reagan called for “states rights” to win over “George Wallace-inclined voters.”
In the New York Times, Paul Krugman noted it was one of the many examples of “Reagan’s tacit race-baiting in the historical record.”
Martin Luther King Jr., may have been a registered Republican, but most historians believe King voted for Democrat John F. Kennedy and Democrat Lyndon Johnson. He certainly did not vote for Republican Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Supreme Court ruling on school segregation.
That leading southern Democrats were demagogic racists does not absolve Republicans from their racist acts. The federal civil rights legislation of the 1960s sent many white racist southern Democrats scurrying into the Republican Party.
The leaders of both political parties must take responsibility for the racism of their members and publicly denounce it.
We cannot sweep racism under the national rug and “celebrate complete racial equality” until that is in fact achieved.
As for the writer’s question about Abraham Lincoln’s view of the modern welfare state, does he realize that in the Lincoln era we were still a largely agrarian nation as compared to our modern urban industrial state?
Don Strasser is professor emeritus of American History at Minnesota State University. He taught African-American history there from 1968 to 2003.
Footnote 1 Chris Edelson, Uncatagorized. Internet
Footnote 2 McClatchy News, “Tea Party Protesters Scream “Nigger” at Congressman, March 20, 2010
Footnote 3 Darlene Hine, William Hine, and Stanley Harold, The African-American Odyssey. Combined ed. 201-302.
Footnote 4 Mark Adams, The “Southern Strategy” and Richard Nixon, 7-31-2010. See also Black Americans in Congress, The Negroes Temporary Farewell. Internet
Footnote 5 The Neshoba Democrat, 11-15-2007. The Neshoba County Blog, 11-20-2007. Internet
Footnote 6 Austin American Statesman, Politifact Texas, 1-7-2011. Internet
Footnote 7 William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey, 230-232.