The Notorious GOP: A Series on the History of the Republican Party and the Black Vote: Part 1

When the liberal and conservative political bubbles clash online over the issues of anti-black racism several tropes are bound be texted, memed or gifed. The King Kong Aint Got Nothin’ On Me of these troublesome tropes is: “the democrat party started the KKK” followed closely by “The GOP freed the slaves (you ungrateful, uppity, negra.)” Beside the need of my inner grammarian to jump through the screen and throttle the writer with a copy of Strunk & White, the sheer ignorance and constant repetition of these tropes as a legitimate point of debate makes me want to holla Marvin Gaye style. A cursory glance into any history textbook not published in the great confabulating state of Texas illustrates that the history of the Grand Old Party is not that simple. While the KKK was most certainly founded by southern men who were members of the Democratic Party, the nation’s most prolific terrorist organization was not an official paramilitary arm of the Democratic Party. That is a leap that even D. W. Griffith wouldn’t make. While Lincoln did enact the Emancipation Proclamation, the GOP was hardly unified by their desire for the full abolition and equality of the nation’s human chattel.

These oft repeated racial conservative tropes have three rhetorical aims: to “educate” black people on the “history” of the GOP, to chide us uppity blacks about our lack of gratitude for magnanimity of Republicans and “enlighten” our poor, simple, uninformed minds that have no ability to discern how we are being manipulated by liberal whites. Racially liberal commenters dutifully respond to this claptrap by explaining that the parties swapped their racial ideology in the 1960’s. The southern reaction to the passage of the Civil Rights bills is usually used as a point of reference. The major ammunition in this comment arsenal is an infamous quote from the GOP political operative, Lee Atwater. This human garbage was responsible for formulating the policy known as the Southern Strategy. Atwater’s bigot bonafides include serving as a political aide for Strom Thruman, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Atwater recanted his racism on his deathbed, but no last minute confession can wipe away the stench of his 1981 interview:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Sadly, quoting the bigot who crafted and implemented one the vilest political policies in recent history isn’t enough of a racial patronous to defend against your average racially conservative GOP commenter. He or she will continue to squawk that their party has always had the best interests of black folks in mind and that we are too lazy and intellectually bereft to see that shining nugget of truth and break free from the “democrat plantation.” Many will  come up a quote from their limited stable of famous black people whose quote backs up their position. Morgan Freeman  and Charles Barkley or the most recent political Negro de jure Ben Carson are often used, but the Big Kahuna of racial internet comment dodgeball is “the content of their character” sentence from Martin Luther King’s March on Washington speech. It is clear racial conservatives have never read the whole speech or they would recoil in horror at this quote:

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.  We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

The birth of the Republican Party inspired the hope that blacks would receive the riches of  freedom and security of justice, but the end of Reconstruction greatly diminished out the section of the Republican party who fiercely worked for the post-Emancipation legal, political and social equality for the freedman. The election of Republican president Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 ushered a decades long waxing and waning quest to recruit the Southern white voter and an expand their influence throughout the predominantly white areas of the country.

After Reconstruction divisions in the GOP grew and by 1888, the party was split between the “black and tans” who favored black inclusion in the the party and the “lily whites” who wanted to restrict party membership to whites only. The lily whites won in Southern states and initiated the swift annihilation of the black political power base in the South. George Henry White, was the last black GOP Southern Congressman seated for the 1898-1901 term. The next black Congressmen from the South would not grace the House of Representatives until 2013. With the victory of the Lily Whites every southern state instituted de facto Jim Crow despite the fact that these laws were flagrant violation of the 15th Amendment.  Another tidbit unbeknownst to your average republican Internet commenter is that many Midwestern and Western Republican state parties had very cozy relationships with Klu Klux Klan. By the 1920’s Indiana had the largest KKK Klavern in history and its leader was a republican political operative, D. C. Stephenson. Republican politicians affiliated with the KKK were also active in Colorado, Washington and several other states. This series will take a closer look at the Grand Old Party between it’s founding and the implementation of the Southern Strategy that will help you reclaim your time the when the next racist rube comes up in your mentions spitting the same tired set of smelly, old, soggy, cheeto colored tropes.

Next Friday: The Notorious GOP Part 2: The Founding of the GOP and the Politics of Compromise

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