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Opinion | Message to the GOP: Shake off the selective amnesia

Start remembering who Republicans were when your party was founded.


In the 1970s, adults in the black community would tell us not to put all our eggs in one basket. Sage advice – except when it came to partisan politics.

White folks have always had the luxury of choosing which political party worked best for them. We blacks have not. It’s been one party or the other since slavery.

Originally, it was the Republican Party. For the past 60 years, it’s been the Democrats.

That’s because civil-rights era Republicans began to display symptoms of either selective amnesia or collective stupidity – especially in the Deep South. Still not sure which one it was.

Since we’re about to enter a new year, the GOP has a fresh opportunity to do what they claim they’ve been wanting to do: bring more blacks into their party. 

Of course, they won’t do it. They’re too Trump-drunk for that. But I’m feeling generous, perhaps because we Dems avoided the dreaded Red Wave in other states. So here’s some free advice that starts with a history lesson.

Silent Generation blacks – the predecessors of the Baby Boomers, born in the 1920s – were likely to be Republicans. Their allegiance was to the party of Abraham Lincoln, the complicated so-called “Great Emancipator” of the slaves.

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Some historians clock the GOP shift away from blacks as early as 1876, when Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes cut a deal to remove federal troops from the South to get Democratic support. But blacks didn’t abandon the GOP in mass until the emergence of the charismatic, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

Kennedy’s civil rights posture was attractive to us. A necessary alternative to the terror of lynchings, rapes, cross burnings, convict leasing, brutality from law enforcement, and discrimination baked into nearly facet of American life. 

Meanwhile, as I suggested earlier, Republicans had been slowly backing away from black people and our issues since the 19th century. I won’t bore you with the minutia. Google it or grab some copies of Taylor Branch’s brilliant civil rights trilogy Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge. 

The shift of segregationist ideology from the Democratic Party to the Republicans wasn’t subtle. And today, the stench of bigotry still clings to the GOP.

It’s like when Uncle Beanie drags you to his favor cigar bar when you are wearing your favorite sweater. Hours later, you still smell like brown liquor and a bad batch of Cubans.

Hopefully, your local dry cleaners can get rid of the stench. If not, you’ve got to trash the sweater.

That’s what the GOP needs to do, if blacks are ever going to return in significant numbers. Clean up their platform and rhetoric. Or toss them out and start over from scratch.

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Push back all you want, conservative Republicans. History doesn’t support your position. By almost any metric – legislation, public policy, political appointments, federal judgeships and endorsed candidates – blacks and other minority groups have been warmly received by Democrats for six decades. Not so much by you.

One example: Since 1967, only two black Republicans have been elected to the U.S. Senate – the late Edward Brooke of Massachusetts and Tim Scott of South Carolina. By contrast, the Dems have elected seven blacks – two of whom were later elected by the American people to serve in the Executive Branch. (Barack Obama and Kamala Harris, in case you forgot. Or were trying to forget.)

Brooke was a relatively moderate Republican, not nearly as conservative as Scott is today. History will see both as competent, despite their ideological differences.

But the Republican Party’s credibility with the black community will continue to crumble if its leaders back candidates like Herschel Walker. Black skin and football heroics don’t make a candidate viable for the U.S. Senate. Especially when that same candidate struggles to express a cohesive thought and thinks vampires and werewolves are substantive talking points. 

Message to the GOP: Shake off the selective amnesia. Or the collective stupidity.  

Start remembering who Republicans were when your party was founded. And stop acting like blacks should be grateful to join a party whose rhetoric and views are openly hostile to us most of the time.

It’s about to be 2023. You can do better, can’t you? 

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David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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