The Democratic Party has been stellar at spinning a revisionist history where the righteous among their ranks fought “tirelessly” to further the cause of Civil Rights, women’s rights – indeed human rights – throughout time immemorial.
In fairness, progressives have had one lynchpin to their argument: Then-President Lyndon B. Johnson did sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The fact that the crux of the bill was drafted and pushed through Congress by Republican Senator Everett Dirksen, and the fact that LBJ staunchly opposed the passing of Civil Rights legislation in the decades leading up to his presidency, bears little relevance on the left's present-day narrative.
Likewise, the Ku Klux Klan – the disgraced racist organization to which even Democratic President Harry Truman belonged -- was founded by Democrats and, in a sense, operated at one point as the de facto militant branch of the party.
Today, spurred by Republican lawmakers’ efforts to introduce voter ID laws in their respective states, cries of “Jim Crow” are routinely leveled against Republicans by their democratic counterparts and ideological foes. What is perhaps most ironic (and damning), however, is that de jure racism was in fact brought to bear by Democrats, who instated Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and even created the KKK in Southern States. Pastor C.L. Bryant, director of the documentary "Runaway Slave" spoke to TheBlaze extensively for the first installment of this report about the historical significance of Democrats' past:
Bryant, director of the provocative documentary “Runaway Slave” and a former NAACP leader himself, acknowledged that it was in fact Democrats who “stood in the way” of civil rights and progress with their collective push for Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and at the University of Alabama in 1963, when then-Democratic Governor George Wallace, in a symbolic protest against desegregation, stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium to affirm his pledge of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” [...]
Bryant marveled at the idea that, if asked today, a majority of Blacks would invariably say that the KKK and Jim Crow were Republicans creations, when it couldn’t be further from the truth. “They are just that misinformed.”
It comes as no surprise that the Left has kept mum about its past transgressions, but why are conservatives so reticent to defend their historic connection to civil rights?
Perhaps Republicans feel that an attempt to reach out to minorities would be an effort in futility, as they see it a forgone conclusion that Blacks and Hispanics will invariably vote Democrat. After all, the Left has established that if one is not in favor of raising taxes to fund welfare programs, that person must surely be a racist. Still, with facts and figures on their side, one cannot help but wonder if Republicans are snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
So what, then, prompted this mass-migration of minorities to the Democratic Party?
Some members of the Left claim that two catalysts were the "Dixiecrats" -- the short-lived segregationist party that had splintered off from the Democratic Party in 1948 and Republican President Richard Nixon's purported "Southern Strategy" (despite the fact that Nixon was a staunch supporter of Civil Rights).
A certain contingent assert that it was Republicans' "Southern Strategy" under Nixon that turned the tide. According to liberals, this strategy was a method employed by Nixon to garner the white vote in Southern states by pandering to its residents' primary concern: Desegregation. He allegedly did so by using "dog whistle" (this is where the term originates) terminology and "code speak" to signal that Republicans would not stand in the way of "states rights" to oppose integration.
The alleged coup de grace occurred when Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Thus, the liberal narrative goes that racist Southern Democrats became Republican.
Now for the Southern Strategy theory to hold water, one would have to point to statistical data that showed Blacks migrated to the Democratic party directly following Nixon's campaign. The trouble is that there was a marked flux in the number of Black Americans who voted Democrat from as early as the 1913 to 1921 presidency of Woodrow Wilson, a man often dubbed a "virulent racist."
This trend followed suit with election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. FDR garnered 71 percent of the Black vote during his first presidential bid and fared similarly in his subsequent elections. Yet, FDR opposed anti-lynching laws and appointed two members of the Ku Klux Klan to positions of great authority. First, Harry Truman as his vice president and then another Klansman as his Supreme Court appointee. Likewise, it has been argued that FDR himself harbored prejudice against Blacks.
Even more confounding, is that Harry Truman -- a Klansman himself -- garnered 77 percent of the Black vote in 1948. While he was credited with desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces, Truman vehemently opposed Civil Rights legislation leading up to and during his presidency.
The trend continued...
The trend followed suit into the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Democrats like John F. Kennedy and LBJ, who famously stated: "Get ready to take up the Goddamned nigra bill again," fought ardently against Dwight D. Eisenhower's Civil Rights legislation of 1957 and had each consistently opposed other attempts at ensuring racial equality in America.
It is a generally accepted belief that LBJ only signed the Civil Rights Act due to the mounting pressure of the time and general environment in which he functioned. Recall that emotions were running high with Vietnam War protests, Dr. Martin Luther King's marches and emergence onto the Civil Rights scene, and riots fueled by racial tension. With this, LBJ was said to have acquiesced, albeit reluctantly, to hopping on board the Civil Rights bandwagon. Now, with a tabla rasa, Democrats could (and have) co-opt racial equality as their own invention.
Of all the theories, the "Southern Strategy" argument is perhaps the one best-documented and most often cited reason liberals give when attempting to explain why Blacks fled the Republican Party in droves. But the motivations must go deeper than is clear at first blush.
TheBlaze took to the floor at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina to speak with convention-goers and find out why they think Black Americans shifted away from the GOP.
One 65-year-old delegate from Wyoming attempted to explain why he has been a Democrat for his entire life. Beginning with John F. Kennedy and LBJ, he told TheBlaze that he credits those two presidents as proponents of Civil Rights. He then pointed blame to Richard Nixon and the Southern Strategy as a reason for Black Americans' migration to the Democratic Party. To understand where this thought-process comes from, it is perhaps prudent to note that JFK did indeed take credit for advances in Civil Rights during his political years. The JFK Library states:
By the 1960 presidential campaign, Civil Rights had emerged as a crucial issue. Just a few weeks before the election, Martin Luther King, Jr., was arrested while leading a protest in Atlanta, Georgia. John Kennedy phoned Coretta Scott King to express his concern while a call from Robert Kennedy to the judge helped secure her husband's safe release. The Kennedys' personal intervention led to a public endorsement by Martin Luther King, Sr., the influential father of the civil rights leader.
In the fall of 1963, soon after Dr. King delivered his famed "I Have a Dream" speech, the legislation that would come to be known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed Congress, however President Kennedy was assassinated in November and the bill could not be signed until LBJ became president. The library adds:
Before becoming vice president, Johnson had served more than two decades in Congress as a congressman and senator from Texas. He used his connections with southern white congressional leaders and the outpouring of emotion after the president's assassination to pass the Civil Rights Act as a way to honor President Kennedy.
Thus, Kennedy, too, has been held in high esteem by the Black community despite his initial hesitancy to endorse various Civil Rights pushes. Still, that does not explain Black support for Democrats in the days prior to Kennedy.
When TheBlaze reminded one delegate that Blacks voted for Harry Truman, a KKK member himself, by 77 percent, he seemed to brush off the president's checkered past, saying that "in that time, everybody under the Mason Dixon line were active members [of the KKK] or had family who was." He also said that Blacks give credit to Truman for desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was also present at the Democratic Convention and had some interesting thoughts to share. He believes that the Black community in the 1930s was also affected by the Great Depression and may have seen FDR in a more favorable light based on their own socio-economic positions. He added that Republicans' Southern Strategy, coupled with a decline in GOP outreach efforts are all collectively responsible for the balance tilting.
Steele places an onus on Republicans, however, to better articulate their historic link with Blacks in an honest way. "It's not just appealing to a social agenda, it's an entire philosophy and idea," he told TheBlaze.
"You won't join a party where you don't feel wanted. African Americans forget we voted 90/10 for Republicans... just like 94/0 for Democrats today. It's incumbent on the party [GOP] to make that step."
Another Black delegate who spoke with TheBlaze agreed, stating that "if you [GOP] don't reach out to a segment of the population... then you will lose their vote."
During the course of the convention, Black delegates were open about their view that Democrats have "always" been there for Blacks and that they themselves had been Democrats their entire lives. Even when reminded about Jim Crow and the fact that Civil Rights legislation -- the one signed by LBJ -- was drafted by a Republican -- the delegates at the DNC didn't seem fazed.
Overall, those consulted for this article view government involvement in a favorable light and believe Uncle Sam is a positive force for good. Speaking to this idea in greater detail was syndicated columnist and author Jonah Goldberg, who posited that even when Black Americans identified themselves primarily as Republican, they were still about "big government."
He told TheBlaze that because the government had always stepped in to help Blacks out of dire situations -- from the days of Reconstruction to when Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to quell a protest against the integration of a school -- the Black community has come to rely on its presence heavily.
Goldberg suggests that the plight of Black Americans in the country was demonstrably improved on more than one occasion by government intervention.
"When you consider their [Blacks] historical narrative...conservatives shouldn't be too glib," he said, explaining that Blacks have legitimate reasons to look favorably on government.
Whatever the reasons, Goldberg ceded that Blacks need to also realize that the solutions to their problems don't come from Uncle Sam alone.
"I think that the lesson to take away is this idea that government is a solution to problems is deeply pernicious over the long haul. "The standard American narrative of 'by the bootstraps' is much more complicated" for Blacks. "They have good and legitimately grounded reasons for favoring government."