Majority of African Americans Reject Modern Republican Party: Some History

In my last post titled “Herman Cain: African American Voters Too “Brainwashed,” I stated that presidential candidate Herman Cain claims that African Americans are not open to Republican ideals and believes his message is marginalized by the liberal media. I went on to state reasons why some African Americans join the Republican Party. This post extends the Cain post and offers some historical explanations as to why African Americans in general do not vote Republican.

During the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, it must be noted that both the Republican and Democratic parties viewed African Americans as racially inferior to whites. But the Democratic Party, the most powerful of the two parties, was the party of southern planters that opposed black participation in politics and were determined that slavery had not ended. On the other hand, the Republican Party was the first of the two parties that welcomed African American participation and contributed to the establishment of the Freedman’s Bureau. As a result, the majority of the African American community voted for the Republican Party until the Great Depression.

In 1866, the 39th Republican Congress passed the 14th Amendment, a major civil rights bill, granting former slaves U.S. citizenship. When this legislation was passed, former slave states opposed the idea of living among and associating with former slaves and white Democratic planters, the ruling elite, did everything possible to stifle black progress. In 1867, Thaddeus Stevens (R-PA), a powerful leader in the Republican Party, presented the Reconstruction Act that would grant black males the right to vote. Southern planters moved swiftly to prevent this voting right, but the Act was passed.

In 1870, under the Reconstruction Act, African Americans began participating in the Republican Party, and were concerned about the government’s division of land and the restoration of the property taken from them when the Confederate soldiers returned. Their concerns were not considered, and state amendments were passed in favor of the planters. Here lies part of the black economic problem. When blacks were freed from slavery and the government gave them property, the land was taken from them and returned to the southern rebels when their states rejoined the union. The taking of the land or what blacks call their “forty acres and a mule” destroyed blacks’ ability to self-determine their future and to provide for their posterity. There was no public effort to educate them and laws were passed to keep them as close to a slave status as possible.

The Reconstruction Era (1863-1877) lasted about 14 years and turned African Americans into a potent political force. During this period, African Americans enjoyed political, economic, and cultural progress, even though the black codes—whites treating free blacks as slaves—instituted by the legislature stalled the progress they made. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), an orator and author, received substantial financial support from the white power elite because he insisted that blacks should prepare themselves for citizenship through self-help programs and industrial education. Washington, like other black conservatives of his day and modern day black conservatives, was an accommodationist. He believed African Americans were creating hostility among whites for demanding their rights, ignoring America’s major role in subjecting blacks to slavery and putting legal barriers in their way after emancipation.

Herman Cain is a modern-day Washington. Cain does not seem to understand that as long as black accommodationists, such as himself, pander to the white racial frame, absolve white racism, and believe that self-help programs will open the door to economic prosperity for the masses of African Americans, he is living an illusion. Cain has extrapolated his own personal success to all African Americans, leaving room for ongoing racist practices against African Americans and other Americans of color.

In 1876, Republican president-elect Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881), who initially supported black rights, struck a deal over a disputed close election between himself and his Democratic opponent, Samuel Tilden, in support of the interests of the South, thus ending the Reconstruction Era. Consequently, the Republicans formed a coalition of radical segregationists to resist all Reconstruction reforms. With the help of a conservative U.S. Supreme Court, the political safeguards African Americans enjoyed were removed after Hayes took office. This opened the door for political oppression through segregationist Jim Crow laws that lasted for almost a century. Since African Americans who traditionally voted for the Republican Party from 1867 to 1932 saw a rolling back of their civil rights and no economic progress, they abandoned the Republican Party, switched their loyalty to the Democratic Party, and voted for Franklin Roosevelt. Although Roosevelt showed little sympathy for the plight of African Americans, he invited notable African Americans to participate in his administration and challenged state-imposed limitations on their civil rights during his third term in office.

There is a connection between the losses African Americans experienced during the post-Reconstruction period and the current conservative backlash. During the late 19th century, the southern states rolled back equalitarian laws for African Americans. Today’s congressional conservatives are rolling back the gains of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and accommodationist black conservatives are turning a blind eye to this historical fact.