Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Should the Democratic Party Apologize for Supporting Slavery?

February 10, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) There is a saying – “God cannot change the truth.”

I’m an African-American political independent. The purpose of this article is not to debate the merits of belonging to a certain political party nor to pursue political converts. The purpose is to clarify history and to ask does the Democratic Party owe African Americans an apology for past support of slavery and racism?

February is Black History Month. Sometimes Black History needs clarification. For example, a friend told me that an African-American employee in his New York City office thought that President Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. Another African-American friend, a former liaison between the Democrats in the California State Legislature and the Clinton White House, well as a campaigner for Bill Clinton’s presidency, thought that the slave owners in the Old South were all Republicans. He thought that the worst Democrat was better than the best Republican. I was even told that an African American woman in Illinois actually thought that it was illegal for a Black person to vote Republican! Based on that sampling, it is possible that a vast number of African Americans are laboring under similar false beliefs about Democrats and Republicans?

Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. of Illinois said: “before the Civil War, the Democratic slave masters used to hold anti-black conventions.” Hence, there were no Republican slave masters at all. Why? The Republican Party was formed in the 1850’s for the purpose of abolishing slavery and polygamy. The Republican National Committee website (www.rnc.com) says: “The Republican Party was born in the early 1850’s by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge.”

Look at a portion of the 1860 platform: “That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; That as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that ‘no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,’ it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States….That we brand the recent re-opening of the African slave- trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a shame to (a) crime against humanity and a burning (for) our country and age; and we call upon Congress to take prompt and efficient measures for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic.” (To their credit, there were Northern Democrats who supported President Lincoln during the Civil War.)

I’m somewhat curious about some information on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) website (www.democrats.org/about/history.html). The late Ron Brown, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee said: “The common thread of Democratic history, from Thomas Jefferson to Bill Clinton, has been an abiding faith in the judgment of hardworking American families, and a commitment to helping the excluded, the disenfranchised and the poor strengthen our nation by earning themselves a piece of the American Dream. We remember that this great land was sculpted by immigrants and slaves, their children and grandchildren….” Wait a minute! From Thomas Jefferson to Bill Clinton helping the excluded, the disenfranchised and the poor? All of the slave masters were Democrats. How many other Democratic Presidents before the Civil War opposed slavery? The answer is none. The Democrats kept in bondage those who were excluded, those who were disenfranchised and those who were poor – Black slaves. Rest in peace Ron Brown, but were you were ignorant of your own party’s history or did you lie through your teeth?

According to the PBS’s American Experience website (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/lincolns/politics/tl_tree.html) it says of the Democratic Party platform in 1840: “They opposed the government’s interference with the spread of slavery.” It also said in 1852: “Democrats also supported the provisions of the Compromise of 1850 and united along pro-slavery lines.” It also said in 1856: “Democrats again united along a pro-slavery platform, endorsing states’ rights, the Fugitive Slave Law, and popular sovereignty in the territories.

Mackubin T. Owens writes in his editorial “The Democratic Party’s Legacy of Racism” (http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/oped/owens/02/racism.html): “The most liberal position among ante-bellum Democrats regarding slavery was that slavery was an issue that should be decided by popular vote. For example, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1858 Illinois senate race and the 1860 presidential campaign, advocated ‘popular sovereignty.’ He defended the right of the people in the territories to outlaw slavery, but also defended the right of Southerners to own slaves and transport them to the new territories.”

Whether or not some Republicans did not want slavery because they sincerely thought it was immoral or some did not want it for political reasons only, not out of love for the Black people (Lincoln thought that Blacks were inferior to Whites and there were northern states that barred Blacks from migrating into them), is irrelevant. The fact is that Republicans were never supporters of slavery, contrary to the belief of many African Americans today.

The PBS website on “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow” (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_org_democratic.html) said: “The Democratic Party identified itself as the ‘white man’s party’ and demonized the Republican Party as being ‘Negro dominated,’ even though whites were in control.” Some Democrats formed the terrorist organization the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870’s. An article in the 1992 Encyclopedia Britannica under the “Reconstruction” heading reported: “The Democratic resentment led to the formation of the secret terroristic organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camilia. The use of fraud, violence, and intimidation helped Southern conservatives regain control of their state governments.” Blacks and White Republicans were the targets of the Klan’s wrath. All this information can be freely verified in libraries and on the Internet. My point is that in the minds of many African Americans today, the Republican Party is identified with the Ku Klux Klan. Until an African-American friend of mine learned the true history of both political parties, she thought the Republicans and the KKK were basically the same and published that imagery of that nature in a newspaper.

Look at these paragraphs concerning their history on the DNC’s website: “In 1848, the National Convention established the Democratic National Committee, now the longest running political organization in the world. The Convention charged the DNC with the responsibility of promoting ‘the Democratic cause’ between the conventions and preparing for the next convention. The next paragraph immediately says: “As the 19th Century came to a close, the American electorate changed more and more rapidly. The Democratic Party embraced the immigrants who flooded into cities and industrial centers, built a political base by bringing them into the American mainstream, and helped create the most powerful economic engine in history.” We leave 1848 and timewarp to the late 19th Century? Why the 50-year gap in the DNC history? What about the Democratic Party during the Civil War and Reconstruction? Why don’t they talk about the first Black government officials on state and federal levels? Is it because they were 100% Republican therefore persona non grata? A Black elected official I know personally admitted he did not know until recently that there were Blacks in Congress in the 19th Century. Why did not that website celebrate the constitutional amendments that formally abolished slavery and declared the former slaves citizens of the United States? Why was that significant part of history their history intentionally left out? Was it because they could not honestly claim that championing civil rights for Blacks, part of “the Democratic cause,” after the Civil War was a part of their history?

(As a matter of fact, do you recall any mention of the first Black governor, congressmen, or state representatives immediately after the Civil War in any Black History Month celebrations or programs? You hear of the first Black this and the first Black that, and that is wonderful. But you never, ever, hear about the first Black Americans in national or state government. Why is that?)

Did you know the “racist” Republican Barry Goldwater was a founding member of the Arizona NAACP? He was a member until his death in 1998! Could a White racist be a founding member of a Black civil-rights organization and a dues-paying member until his death? As an Air National Guard Colonel in the 1940’s, he desegregated the Arizona Air National Guard, 2 years BEFORE President Truman desegregated the entire Armed Forces. My mother, who is 87 years old, believed for the last 40 years that Barry Goldwater was a White supremacist. (I grew up believing he was a racist.) Now that my mother knows the real Goldwater, her 40-year bitterness toward him evaporated. She understands he voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act based on his libertarian philosophy as far as the federal government intruding into private affairs and not because of “racism.” Also Goldwater voted for two Civil Rights bills during the Eisenhower administration.

A Wikipedia article on the Democratic Party says: “The civil rights movement of the 1960s, championed by the party despite opposition at the time from its Southern wing, has continued to inspire the party’s liberal principles.” Rev. Al Sharpton (who I respect for traveling to Sudan and exposing chattel slavery there) said at a recent Democratic Convention in Boston: “Mr. President, you said would we have more leverage if both parties got our votes, but we didn’t come this far playing political games. It was those that earned our vote that got our vote. We got the Civil Rights Act under a Democrat (President Lyndon Baines Johnson). We got the Voting Rights Act under a Democrat. We got the right to organize under Democrats.” Rev. Sharpton, I really wish you would have mentioned too that it was because of Democrats, not because of Republicans, that we needed the protection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Southern Democrats were the segregationists, not the Republicans. The Southern Democrats were responsible for Jim Crow, not the Republicans.

I have asked several Black people if a majority of Democrats or Republicans in Congress supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act. All but one said it was a Democratic majority. Therefore they believed it was a Democratic victory for civil rights. Have the Democrats claimed a victory that they never earned? Here is the historical record that you can look up today on the Internet: In 1964, in a Democratic Congressional majority, in the Senate, 82% of the Republicans voted for the Act while only 69% of the Democrats voted for it. Every Southern Democratic Senator voted against it. In the House of Representatives, 80% of the Republicans voted for the Act, while only 61% of the Democrats voted for it. Ninety-two of the 103 Southern Democrats in the House voted against it. It is all in the Congressional Record. Also the ignored or forgotten 1957 Civil Rights Act (which Senator Strom Thurmond tried to torpedo) and the 1960 Civil Rights Act, designed to protect us from the Southern Democrats, were passed by the majority of Republicans in Congress and signed into law by Republican President Eisenhower. Republicans, not Democrats, historically have been in the majority in support of civil rights legislation from the beginning of their history. Even Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy was no outstanding exponent for civil rights before his presidential bid. Who said, “The time has come for equality of opportunity in sharing in government, in education, and in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here!”? It was Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen speaking of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In the 1965 Voting Rights Act, in percentages, 73.4% of the Democratic Senators voted for the law and 93% of the Republican Senators voted for the law. 78.4% of the Democratic House Representatives voted for the law and 82.3% of the Republican House Representatives voted for the law.

Republican Senator Trent Lott was nothing to shout about. (Same for the late Democrat Dixiecrat turned Republican Strom Thurmond). Lott was pilloried by the media after his remarks praising a Thurmond Dixiecrat presidency. However, Democratic Senator Robert Byrd said on national television, “There are white niggers.” I have not heard any cries of protests from recognizable Black leaders and politicians. (You know who they are.) It was reported that Senator Carol Mosely Braun excused him by saying that he was just “an old man.” An older Black man I knew who hated, with venom, White and Black Republicans also defended Byrd! By the way, Senator Byrd was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, the “Invisible Empire of the South,” years ago. He even recruited for the Klan as a “kleagle.” What if Trent Lott was an ex-Klan member and said “white niggers” on national television? We would have shouted “Crucify! Crucify!” right? We would have tarred and feathered him and ran him out of town. Was it because Byrd is a Democrat that we make excuses for him making racial slurs that no Republican could get away with? He can get away with being a ex- Klan member while we tell the Republicans to “come clean”? Is not that “selective outrage” dysfunctional if not hypocritical?

Rev. Sharpton said we never got our “40 acres and a mule.” Yes, we did, and they were taken away by a Democrat. Reparations to Black slaves were discussed by Republicans after the Civil War. Political activist and researcher M.D. Currington (websites: mdcurrington.tripod.com/mdc and moteandbeam.tripod.com) writes, “On January 12, 1865, General William Tecumseh Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton met with twenty Black community leaders in Savannah, Georgia to discuss freedom and reparations for former Black slaves.…on January 16, 1865, General Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15, which set aside 7,600 square miles in a 30-mile wide tract of land along the Atlantic coast stretching from Charleston, South Carolina to St. John’s River near Jacksonville, Florida, for the exclusive settlement by Blacks…This Field Order also guaranteed former slaves U.S. military protection, 40 acres of tillable land per Black family, other provisions such as a mule or horse in order to work the land, and any other animal that was no longer useful to the military. By June 1865, over 40,000 former slaves were settled on 40-acre tracts of land. Over 400,000 acres were allocated. In September of 1865, Democrat President Andrew Johnson reversed Field Order No. 15, issued special pardons, and returned the land to former slaveowners.” The Republicans gave, yet a Democrat took it away.

I was told that the Republicans of yesterday are the Democrats of today and vice versa.
Former radio talk-show host and community activist Rev Wayne Perryman says in his book Unfounded Loyalty: “To praise the Democrats for what they did in the sixties is similar to praising a child who voluntarily cleans up part of his mess after tracking mud throughout the entire house.” He also quotes Black journalist Tony Brown (Tony Brown’s Journal on PBS): “It is out of ignorance of their own history that many Blacks demean the Republican philosophy and condemn Black Republicans. Blacks have been Republicans historically Frederick Douglass and the first twelve Blacks to serve as U.S. Congressman were Republicans. And Congressional White Republicans were the architects of Reconstruction, a ten-year period of unprecedented political power for Black people. Democrats working hand-in-hand with the Ku Klux Klan gave us Jim Crow Laws that effectively reenslaved Blacks. If you know this history, you have to wonder: How did Blacks move from the party that gave them civil and political rights to join forces with a party with a history of racist demagoguery, support of slavery, Jim Crow and lynchings?”

Let’s explore lynchings. Wikipedia says: “Lynching in the United States refers, primarily, to the practice in the 19th and 20th centuries of the humiliation and killing of people by mobs acting outside the law. These murders, most of them unpunished, often took the form of hanging and burning. To demonstrate a ritual of power, mobs sometimes tortured the victim… between 1880 and 1951 the Tuskegee Institute recorded lynchings of 3,437 African-American victims, as well as 1,293 white victims. Southern states completed disfranchisement of African Americans about the turn of the century. Their white Democratic representatives comprised such a powerful voting block in Congress that they consistently defeated Federal bills against lynching.” To its credit, the U.S. Senate, not the Democratic National Committee, in 2005 passed a resolution to apologize for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation. All the anti-lynching bills were initiated by Republicans. I did a Google search and what came up was “Your search – ‘Democratic anti-lynching’ – did not match any documents.”

Why did African Americans switch parties? The previously mentioned Wikipedia Democratic Party article also says: “From the end of the Civil War, African Americans favored the Republican Party. However, they began drifting to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, as Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs gave economic relief to all minorities, including African Americans and Hispanics. Support for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s by Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson helped give the Democrats even larger support among the African American community, although their position also alienated the Southern white population.” Rev Perryman wrote: “Prior to this time from 1866 to 1928, blacks had voted exclusively for the Republican ticket. Frustrated with the economy as well as with the Republican Party, the newspapers used their powerful voice to urge black voters to break tradition and vote Democrat. John Hope Franklin said, ‘The break was neither clean nor complete, however, for there were those who could not be persuaded to support the party that, after all, was the party of the Ku Klux Klan and other bigots”…Hard times were nothing new for the American Negro. They voted Democrat because the Pittsburgh Courier and other powerful black newspapers told their readers the ‘Republicans took their vote for granted.’”

Funny. Back then any Black person who voted Democrat would have been considered an “Uncle Tom” or a “handkerchief-head Negro” as the Democratic Party was “the party of the Ku Klux Klan and other bigots.”

Rev. Perryman also writes: “Modern-day Democrats must stop preaching that they are the compassionate party of black people and confess that it was their predecessors who started many of the racist practices that we are now trying to eradicate. History clearly shows two things: (1) that the roots of racism grew deep in the hearts and souls of the Democrats and (2) without the past efforts of the Radical Republicans and the Abolitionists, the Civil Rights Legislation of the sixties would not have been possible. Republicans laid the foundation for civil rights by passing legislation and instituting programs that Democrats’ were adamantly opposed to, such as:

1. The Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 to abolish slavery.

2. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 to give Negroes citizenship and protect freedmen from Black Codes and other repressive legislation.

3. The First Reconstruction Act of 1867 to provide more efficient Government of the Rebel- or Democratic-controlled states.

4. The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 to make all persons born in the United States citizens. Part of this Amendment specifically states “No State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; or deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

5. The Fifteenth Amendment of 1870 to give the right to vote to every citizen.

6. The Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 to stop Klan terrorists to terrorized black voters, Republicans, white teachers who taught blacks, and Abolitionists.

7. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights and to prohibit racial discrimination in places of public accommodation.

8. Freedmen Bureau was social programs established by Republicans to feed, protect, and educate the former slaves.

9. The 1957 Civil Rights Act and the 1960 Civil Rights Act were signed into law by President Eisenhower who also established the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 1958, a commission that was rejected by Truman during his administration.

10. The 1964 Civil Rights Act which key Republicans pushed law through while key Southern Democrats like Al Gore Sr. debated against its passage. More Republicans (in percentages) voted for this law than Democrats.”

There is good and bad in both parties. A great example of good is pro-civil rights Democrat Congressman Bob Filner of Chula Vista, California. He was part of the Freedom Rides in the South in the early 1960’s and was even imprisoned for months by racist Democrats. His life was constantly in danger as some other Freedom Riders were murdered. The Republican Party is not completely virtuous too. It has dropped the ball a few times concerning Blacks. However, considering the immutable facts of history, which political party historically has a better civil rights and equality track record for Blacks?

Based on a correct interpretation of history based on documented facts, does the Democratic Party owe Black America an apology for past support of slavery, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and violent acts of racism such as lynching? Since there has never been an offer of apology from the Democratic National Committee and 90% of the African American vote goes to the Democrats, don’t you think the answer should be YES?

But another important question that African-American voters should ask is what do we African Americans owe the Democratic Party?

Written By Robert Oliver

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