It always warms my heart when mid-January rolls around and we get the opportunity to honor and reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His birthday is a symbol to me that the holiday season is over, work is once again in full swing and the realities of life need to be pushed back to the forefront. As a writer I am aware that there are many pieces written about Dr. King so I will not rehash many of the things that are already said about him. My purpose for writing is to expose people to things they may not know or need to know. In that spirit, I want to talk about two things that initially seem like they should not go together – Martin Luther King Jr. and the Republican Party.
The Republican Party of the last 30 years certainly has not been a place where many black people align themselves. With the growth of the new Tea Party and their Republican alignment, it seems that "black" and "republican" seems more like and "oil" and “water”. This however has not always been the case. History shows us that for much of this country’s existence it has been the Republican Party that has advocated for African Americans, while some of the most racist policies and practices have been perpetrated by democrats: Just look at the Democratic and Republican political landscape the Dr King saw:
During slavery the south was largely democratic and owned the vast majority of slaves. The largely republican north fought tirelessly for political change and African American freedom.
The Republican Party was formed in the 1850’s specifically to oppose Democratic pro-slavery policies.
Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves as the 16th Republican president. He was murdered by a Democrat.
In 1868 not 1 Democrat voted for the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (granting former slaves citizenship). The bill was passed by Republicans
The Ku Klux Klan was formed by Democratic southerners in the 1870’s specifically to stop Republicans and African Americans from voting. On April 20, 1871 Republican Congress enacted the Ku Klux Klan Act, outlawing Democratic Party-affiliated terrorist groups which oppressed African-Americans
March 1, 1875 Civil Rights Act of 1875, guaranteeing access to public accommodations without regard to race, signed by Republican President U.S. Grant; passed with 92% Republican support over 100% Democrat opposition
July 14, 1884 Republicans criticize Democratic Party’s nomination of racist U.S. Senator Thomas Hendricks (D-IN) for vice president; he had voted against the 13th Amendment banning slavery
August 30, 1890 Republican President Benjamin Harrison signs legislation by U.S. Senator Justin Morrill (R-VT) making African-Americans eligible for land-grant colleges in the South
February 8, 1894 Democrat Congress and Democrat President Grover Cleveland join to repeal Republicans’ Enforcement Act, which had enabled African-Americans to vote
April 18, 1920 Minnesota’s FIRST-in-the-nation anti-lynching law, promoted by African-American Republican Nellie Francis, signed by Republican Gov. Jacob Preus
January 15, 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. born
May 17, 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren, three-term Republican Governor (CA) and Republican vice presidential nominee in 1948, wins unanimous support of Supreme Court for school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education
November 25, 1955 Eisenhower administration bans racial segregation of interstate bus travel
March 12, 1956 Ninety-seven Democrats in Congress condemn Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and pledge to continue segregation
June 5, 1956 Republican federal judge Frank Johnson rules in favor of Rosa Parks in decision striking down “blacks in the back of the bus” law
October 19, 1956 On campaign trail, Vice President Richard Nixon vows: "American boys and girls shall sit, side by side, at any school – public or private – with no regard paid to the color of their skin. Segregation, discrimination, and prejudice have no place in America"
November 6, 1956 African-American civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy vote for Republican Dwight Eisenhower for President
September 9, 1957 President Dwight Eisenhower signs Republican Party’s 1957 Civil Rights Act
September 24, 1957 Sparking criticism from Democrats such as Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, President Dwight Eisenhower deploys the 82nd Airborne Division to Little Rock, AR to force Democrat Governor Orval Faubus to integrate public schools
June 23, 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower meets with Martin Luther King and other African-American leaders to discuss plans to advance civil rights
February 4, 1959 President Eisenhower informs Republican leaders of his plan to introduce 1960 Civil Rights Act, despite staunch opposition from many Democrats
May 6, 1960 President Dwight Eisenhower signs Republicans’ Civil Rights Act of 1960, overcoming 125-hour, around-the-clock filibuster by 18 Senate Democrats
May 2, 1963 Republicans condemn Democrat sheriff of Birmingham, AL for arresting over 2,000 African-American schoolchildren marching for their civil rights
June 1, 1963 Democrat Governor George Wallace announces defiance of court order issued by Republican federal judge Frank Johnson to integrate University of Alabama
September 29, 1963 Gov. George Wallace (D-AL) defies order by U.S. District Judge Frank Johnson, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, to integrate Tuskegee High School
June 9, 1964 Republicans condemn 14-hour filibuster against 1964 Civil Rights Act by U.S. Senator and former Ku Klux Klansman Robert Byrd (D-WV), who still serves in the Senate
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced and approved by a staggering majority of Republicans in the Senate. The Act was opposed by most southern Democrat senators, several of whom were proud segregationists—one of them being Al Gore Sr. Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson relied on Illinois Senator Everett Dirkson, the Republican leader from Illinois, to get the Act passed.
June 20, 1964 The Chicago Defender, renowned African-American newspaper, praises Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) for leading passage of 1964 Civil Rights Act
March 7, 1965 Police under the command of Democrat Governor George Wallace attack African-Americans demonstrating for voting rights in Selma, AL
March 21, 1965 Republican federal judge Frank Johnson authorizes Martin Luther King’s protest march from Selma to Montgomery, overruling Democrat Governor George Wallace
August 4, 1965 Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen (R-IL) overcomes Democrat attempts to block 1965 Voting Rights Act; 94% of Senate Republicans vote for landmark civil right legislation, while 27% of Democrats oppose
August 6, 1965 Voting Rights Act of 1965, abolishing literacy tests and other measures devised by Democrats to prevent African-Americans from voting, signed into law; higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats vote in favor
April 4 1968 Martin Luther King assassinated
The timeline above should illuminate 4 main points:
1) People need to know their history before summarily bashing one group or another.
2) As far as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was concerned, for MOST of his life the Democratic Party didn’t do a damn thing for African Americans.
3) Democrats are not what they used to be and Republicans are not what they used to be. Politics change.
4) African American individuals and leaders support politicians who advocate for them (unless they're total sellouts)
African Americans are not a bunch of ignorant chickens pecking at a ballot with a picture of a black face and another picture of a white one. If African Americans just voted only for the “black candidate” presidential hopeful Alan Keyes would have had our support. Jesse Jackson has run several times and has not received blanket support from blacks. I can list hundreds of black candidates, but I assume you get the picture.
In 1956 Martin Luther King voted for Republican Dwight Eisenhower because his ideals and policies aligned with the needs and wants of black voters. In 1964 King voted for Democrat Lyndon Johnson and denounced the Republican candidate Barry Goldwater. African Americans in 2008 voted for Democrat Barack Obama because he is the candidate that best represents their vision for America. If Barack Obama were a Republican with the same ideals of fairness, fatherhood, desires to improve education and the like you certainly would have a fascinating presidential race and many interesting discussions around the African American dinner table. Although there are black republicans who seem to have turned their back on black America, there are others who support traditional African American causes. They just believe that the uplift of the black community should be approached in a different way. Black men and women are free to do believe in different approaches. THIS is what Dr. King struggled all his life for.
We should never paint Republicans, Democrats, African Americans or whites with such a broad brush that we ignore the individuals that we all are. Racists AND good people exist in all parties. Karl Malone is a Republican. So is Colin Powell. Bull Conner, probably the most notorious and visible figure opposed to civil rights, was a Democrat. Just because you are a Republican doesn’t necessarily mean you are against black people and just because you are a Democratic does not mean you automatically support African American causes. Today’s America is involved in capitalistic CLASS warfare not RACE warfare. Until we realize that the enemy is the mega-corporation, the bank and the super rich, Democratic AND Republican middle class and poor will keep sniping at each other while continuing to lose property, wealth, stability and happiness.
Sleep on it and speak on it. Happy Birthday Dr. King!
End Racism Forever
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