Republicans salute Black History Month! There are many great African Americans, such as Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Sojournrer Truth, Booker T. Washington, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, who have contributed to the success of America. They deserve all Americans respect and admiration. But I question whether African Americans are taught about all aspects of Black History, especially the facts about its relationship to the history of the Republican Party and their brute treatment by the Democratic Party.
The Republican Party was founded in 1854 by mid-westerners opposed to slavery (abolitionists) and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 that allowed voters in these territories to choose whether or not to allow slavery. The vast majority of Democrats in Congress along with Democrat President Franklin Pierce supported the Act. Abraham Lincoln declared in 1855: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘All men are created equal’. We now practically read it: ‘All men are created equal, except Negroes’.”
By the 1856 presidential election, almost every American opposed to slavery had joined the Republican Party and the Democrat Party became pro-slavery. Republicans nominated former U. S. Senator John Fremont, a southern-born abolitionist, as their candidate for president. The Democrats chose James Buchanan as their nominee. Buchanan won with the help of the “solid-south” while Fremont won most of the northern states.
In March of 1857, shortly after the election, the U. S. Supreme Court announced its infamous Dred Scott decision in which seven Democrat Justices ruled that black Americans could not be citizens anywhere in the country and had no standing to sue in Court for any matter. The two remaining Republican Justices dissented. The same year, Lincoln delivered a speech in which he described the differences between the two political parties. He said: “Republicans inculcate (indoctrinate), with whatever ability they have, that the Negro is a man; that his bondage is cruelly wrong, and that the field of his oppression ought not to be enlarged. The Democrats deny his manhood; deny, or dwarf to insignificance, the wrong of his bondage”.
Thus the stage was set for the historic election of 1860. At the Republican Convention in Chicago, Lincoln won the presidential nomination on the third ballot. In a four-way presidential election, Lincoln’s 40% of the vote was enough to win the presidency. In Texas most residents were Democrats, but Lincoln gained the support of some prominent Texans, such as Governor Sam Houston. For his opposition to secession from the Union, Houston was chased from the office of Governor.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. It proclaimed that all those enslaved in Confederate territory (10 states, including Texas) should be freed. The Proclamation applied to about 3.1 million of the 4 million slaves in the U.S. Booker T. Washington was an African American boy of nine years who lived in Virginia. He recalled a day in 1865 when he and his siblings joined their mother to hear a reading of the Proclamation. With tears in her eyes, she kissed each of the children, he recalled.
In 1864 after his re-election, Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, pressed the lame duck 38th Congress to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which banned slavery in all of the U. S. and its territories. On December 6, 1865, enough states had ratified the Amendment make it a law. The Republican Congress introduced and passed the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment to the Constitution that granted citizenship and the right to vote for African Americans in the U.S. Not even 1 Democrat in the Congress voted for these amendments. The effects of the Civil War and the aftermath, called the Reconstruction, and the death of President Lincoln would be felt for more than a century in Texas. Lincoln’s death prevented an orderly reconstruction of the Confederacy into a constitutional, free market society that he envisioned.
President Andrew Johnson, a former southern U. S. Senator loyal to the Union, succeeded Lincoln. Johnson had the Union army occupy the Confederate States. His policies ultimately allowed former Democrat leaders to return to power by ousting Republican leaders, many who were African Americans. The result was a failure to enforce most of the rights granted African American citizens by the Constitutional Amendments. Johnson also vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 passed by the Republican Congress. With Democrats back in control, every effort was taken, both from the legislative level and the law enforcement level, to prevent African Americans from voting and enjoying the rights of citizenship.
The Democrats of the old Confederacy enacted Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws and poll taxes which legalized racial discrimination and the denial of the right to vote, hold office or serve on juries. The Ku Klux Klan became an active, organized and visible constituency of the Democratic Party and was allowed to operate at will. Not even one Democrat voted for the 1875 Ku Klux Klan bill written to punish Klan violence and lynching; or the 1875 Civil Rights bill banning segregation and racial discrimination. In fact, the 1893 Democrat-controlled Congress repealed the federal civil rights laws, including the Klan law and the voting rights protection laws. Republicans in Congress frequently led efforts to enact anti-lynching laws but those laws were consistently defeated by Democrats, with knowledge of “3,445 African Americans being lynched in the period from 1882 to 1964 [National Black Republican Association, www.NBRA.info]”.
In Texas, blacks were barred from voting in Democratic Primary elections. Multiple suits in Texas Courts resulted in the same decision – the Texas Democratic Party was a white-only, private organization which had the right to exclude certain individuals from voting in their Primary election. Finally, a black attorney, Thurgood Marshall, who later would be appointed to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court by President Lyndon Johnson, filed a suit that reached the U. S. Supreme Court. In 1944, the Court ruled that excluding African Americans from voting in the Democratic Primary election was unconstitutional.
The effects of the Supreme Court decision were not actually felt in Texas until the election of 1948. As a Conroe physician, who had become involved with the Montgomery County Republican Party in 1962, I met Isaac Philpot, an expert carpenter and a highly respected black member of the Willis community. He probably was the first African American in Montgomery County to cast a vote in a Democratic Primary election. Knowing of my interest in politics, Isaac shared this experience with me. Initially, he was not allowed to vote in 1948, but after he challenged the Democrat poll workers with his knowledge of the Supreme Court decision, he finally cast his vote. He then calmly walked out of the polling location not knowing what to expect, but proud that he had cast his vote.
An equally compelling story took place in 2012. A vacancy in the U.S. Senate in the State of South Carolina occurred when Senator Jim DeMint resigned. The Republican Governor promptly appointed an African American Republican, Congressman Tim Scott, to fill the vacancy. The final paragraph of the Associated Press news story about the appointment read: “Outside the Statehouse where Scott spoke, a statue still stands of post-Reconstruction former governor and U.S. Senator Ben Tillman, who unapologetically advocated lynching any black who tried to vote.”
The AP failed to note that Tillman was a Democrat who also was quoted in 1900 as proclaiming: “We have done our level best to prevent blacks from voting…we have scratched our heads to find how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed the ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it”. In 1901, after President Theodore Roosevelt dined in the White House with Booker T. Washington, Senator Tillman said: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that black man will necessitate our killing a thousand of them in the South before they learn their place again”.
Black history correctly recognizes the sacrifices made by many brave African Americans in their crusade to achieve citizenship, the right to vote and equality but does it also recognize the efforts of the Republican Party in support of the same causes and the Democratic Party’s determined opposition to them?
Texas Republicans have elected more minorities to statewide offices in the past 19 years than the Democrats have elected after controlling the state for over 100 years. In 2010, Texas became the only State to have 3 black Republicans serving in statewide offices – Michael Williams as Railroad Commissioner, Wallace B. Jefferson as Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and Dale Wainwright as Associate Justice of the Texas Supreme Court. Republican President George W. Bush became the first President to appoint a black as Secretary of State and he did it twice. And of the 5 blacks ever elected to serve in the U. S. Senate, 3 have been Republicans.