As a child, I told my mother an old joke I once heard about books and black people: “When the white man wants to keep something hidden from black folks, he puts it in a book; he knows the Negro ain’t gonna’ pick up no book.” Mama, a teacher with a master’s degree (earned by teaching in the winters and attending graduate school in the summer), didn’t think that was funny. Hopefully, many blacks will not find it funny today, either. Perhaps they will even be incensed – so much so that they will (possibly in an attempt to prove me wrong) go find out the truth for themselves.
In the 1928 presidential elections, senior Sen. Tom Heflin, D-Ala., decided not to support New York Gov. Al Smith, the Democrat candidate for president. He and other party members determined to support the Republican, Herbert Hoover. Many hard-line, rank-and-file Southern Democrats were outraged. Despite the fact that this was Alabama (they were deep South protestants, Smith was Catholic and a Yankee to boot), these dogged party loyalists were inflexible. They would support Smith. When asked why they would support a Yankee Catholic, the leader of the hardliners replied, “I’d vote for a yellow dog if he ran on the Democratic ticket.” The press popularized the phrase and “YellowDog Democrat” has become a part of the American political lexicon. A YellowDog Democrat is someone who, no matter the issue or candidate, votes for Democrats – period.
Why are American blacks essentially “in the pocket” of the Democrat machine? What are the facts as regards blacks, Republicans and Democrats? Why do blacks almost slavishly support a political party they disagree with on several moral and/or social issues? For instance, African-Americans (and Republicans) support school prayer, education vouchers, faith-based initiatives and the death penalty. Democrats oppose all the above. Democrats support (while blacks and Republicans oppose) same-sex marriage and race-based preferences. Clearly, Democrats and blacks are on different pages when it comes to some basic values. In other words, blacks embrace Republican positions but vote Democrat. Paradoxical?
Unfortunately, for many African-Americans today, politics has become a deadly game of follow the leader. Tragically, it seems blacks have ignored the ancient warning about “… blind guides.” It is my desperate hope that these leaders (promoted to that position by a biased media) are, indeed, merely blind guides, for I shudder to consider the alternative.
As a black American who habitually voted Democrat (when I could and did vote), I easily qualified as a “Black YellowDog.” However, once I became aware of certain historical facts, I began to challenge the flawed concept of voting in blind faith for any party or candidate.
So, who are these “rich, white and racist SOBs,” the Republicans?
In 1854 in Wisconsin (Wisconsin, eh?), a group of citizens calling themselves “Democratic-Republicans” formed a new political party. In July of that same year, at their state convention in Jackson, Mich., they formally adopted their new name – Republicans. Of the 17 planks in their platform, seven (directly or indirectly) called for the abolition of slavery. This new Republican Party was founded squarely on opposition to slavery. Their first presidential candidate? Remember Abraham Lincoln?
Maybe like me, many African-Americans didn’t know that the first seven black Americans in the U.S. Congress (Senate and House,1870s) were all Republicans; or, Blanche Kelso Bruce (MS), the first black to preside over a Senate session, received 11 votes for vice president at the Republican convention in 1888. (Side note: Three African-Americans have presided over Republican national conventions; zero at a Democrat national convention.)
Remember the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, introduced and passed by Republicans (opposed by Democrats)? These “Reconstruction Amendments” abolished slavery, granted citizenship to blacks and granted voting rights to black men. In addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (which guaranteed equal rights and gave the federal courts judicial authority to enforce the act), there were the Civil Rights Acts of 1870, 1871, 1875 and 1957, all introduced by Republicans (opposed by Democrats), which would have granted equality and civil rights to all African-Americans. How different life would have been for African-Americans had Democrats, from 1877 onward, provided even token support for existing legislation passed or proposed by Republicans.
But it was not to be. After the Civil War, the Democrats and their “Redeemer” state governments, a powerful political bloc at the national level, aided by filibusters and sympathetic courts, ensured not one single piece of civil-rights legislation was passed from 1877 to 1954. Historical records and documented research shows the Democratic Party blocked every anti-lynch law and perpetrated every anti-black, pro-segregation initiative from the 1870s to the 1960s. Oh yes, lest we forget the 1965 Voting Rights Act, only 74 percent of Democrat senators voted for it, compared to 97 percent of Republican senators; in the House of Representatives, it was 85 percent Republican to 80 percent Democrat.
Since the ubiquitous phrases “racism” and “discrimination” are personally inferred, please pardon a personal example. A person who has never experienced a desert or spent time in the Arctic cannot truly know. They can only speculate, imagine or guess what it is like. (I spent three years in the desert countries of Saudi Arabia and North Africa, and a year on a cliff top in the Arctic.) Let me say, for the record, the overwhelming majority of Americans born after 1955 has no idea what real racism and discrimination is.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just returned from an overseas tour with the U.S. Air Force. My oldest son (who had just been potty trained) and I were in a major department store, and as I was handing a clerk the money for a purchase, he tugged on my hand saying “Potty Daddy.” I smiled broadly, proudly. He was getting to be a big boy. As the clerk handed me my change, I said, “Excuse me Ma’am, could you tell me where the restrooms are?” She gave me a cold look and said, “We don’t have restrooms for colored.” So, I took my little boy outside to an alley and let him go against the wall like a dog.
The Little Rock Eight, according to the National Park Service, “were elbowed, poked, kicked, punched … received verbal abuse and death threats against families and themselves; members of their families lost their jobs; other members of the black community were harassed by bomb threats, gunshots, bricks through their windows; one of the girls had acid (which could have blinded her for life) thrown in her face.” Emmet Till was lynched for whistling at a white woman, and four young girls were killed when a bomb was thrown at a crowded black church in Birmingham, Ala. Racism? Discrimination? You tell me.
When is the last time you saw a black man stepping off the sidewalk until a white woman passed by, or even heard of a “colored” water fountain, restroom, waiting room, lunch counter or cemetery? “Ben, why do you bring all that stuff up?” Because, I want people to know what real racism, prejudice and discrimination is. I drank from those fountains (even sneaked a sip from the “white” fountain), used those restrooms, waiting rooms and lunch counters in bus stations and buried my grandfather in a colored cemetery.
America 2012 is not a perfect place because there are no perfect places, or people; however, I challenge anyone to find a concrete example of what used to be. Not only am I not required to eat at segregated lunch counters any longer, but I have been invited for lunch at the White House by two presidents (both of whom were Republicans and knew my name).
So, for those blacks who have read this column, “Are blacks hypocrites, stupid … or uninformed?” – the question has changed. As they are no longer “uninformed,” the rest of the question can only be answered by their activities henceforth.