Thursday, January 31, 2019

Chris Ladd -- When Black Meant Republican

It’s easy to forget now, but just a few generations ago African-Americans overwhelmingly identified themselves as Republicans. The story of how the Party of Lincoln lost its black support is long and sad, but understanding what happened is critical as the Party looks to improve its standing in the black community.  

by Chris Ladd

In the fall of 1895 Atlanta put on one in a series of “International Expositions” designed to highlight its progress in recovering from the war. Racial tensions had been growing since southerners, at the end of Reconstruction, began instituting Jim Crow laws to curtail black civil rights. Those laws were still under challenge at the time. African-Americans were divided over the merits of direct, legal resistance.

The organizers of the Exposition invited prominent black leader Booker T. Washington to give a keynote address. The position he took in that speech was a calculated gamble. He aimed to improve blacks’ social position by aggressively pursuing economic progress while de-emphasizing the battle for civil equality. The approach he outlined, The Atlanta Compromise, became the dominant black political ethos for generations. It was a dizzying failure with consequences we are still working to unwind.

Washington had a rival. W.E.B. DuBois was raised in the north and graduated from Harvard. He pressed to make the fight for political equality the community’s highest priority and dismissed Washington’s emphasis on economic development and Capitalism. DuBois founded the NAACP and became a leading figure in the northern cities. He was enamored with Marxism and even penned a defense of Josef Stalin on Stalin’s death. His influence would increase as Washington’s version of compromise began to unravel.

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Related Source: The Lily-White Movement was an anti-civil-rights movement within the Republican Party in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement was a response to the political and socioeconomic gains made by African-Americans following the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated slavery.

According to author and professor Michael K. Fauntroy, "the 'Lily-White Movement' is one of the darkest, and under-examined [sic], eras of American Republicanism."