Wednesday, January 13, 2010


"These Negroes, they're getting pretty uppity these days and that's a problem for us since they've got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we've got to do something about this, we've got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don't move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there'll be no way of stopping them, we'll lose the filibuster and there'll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It'll be Reconstruction all over again." --Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (Democrat, Texas), 1957

Excerpt from "Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past." By Bruce Bartlett, published January 2008

Bruce Bartlett, a white economist who was an official in the Reagan and the senior George Bush administrations and helped President George W. Bush craft his early tax cuts has written an “exposé” of the racist roots of the Democratic Party. With racist, white supremacist quotes from American presidents (Democrats) and several other prominent Democrats beginning in 1787 up to 2008, he exposes the racist history and present of the Democratic Party. With an African American as the frontrunner for the position of Democratic Presidential candidate this book is a reminder that the Democrats were in power for many of the years during the enslavement of Africans and even during the Jim Crow era when African American men, women and children were routinely lynched by white people. Members of the Republican Party on the other hand were championing the cause of enslaved Africans at the time the party was founded. The Republican Party, so the story goes, was founded by a few dozen anti-slavery activists, men and women, in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854. Their mission was to stop the pro-slavery agenda of the Democrats. The Democrats who were in power in 1850 had passed the Fugitive Slave Act. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Act into law meant that any African living in America was fair game for any white person to claim them as their “runaway slave.” Africans who had managed to buy their freedom or who had been bought out of slavery were as much at risk as any “runaway.” Africans could not testify in court so were not allowed to prove their status in a court of law. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Law, made life unsafe even for Africans who lived in free states, many African Americans fled to Canada where slavery had been abolished in 1834.

In 1854 when Congress decided to allow Kansas and Nebraska into the Union, they were supposed to enter as “free” states. Senator Stephen Douglas, a Democrat from Illinois was the architect of the Kansas- Nebraska Act which allowed for either of those new states to enter the Union as slave holding states. The Kansas- Nebraska Act led to fighting between the Republicans who were against slavery and the Democrats who wanted slavery in the new states. The fighting which lasted ten years from 1855 to 1865 earned Kansas the names "Bleeding Kansas" and "Bloody Kansas.” It was in this environment that the events of May 22nd, 1856 occurred in the United States Senate. With the fighting between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery groups in the new Kansas Territory, the issue took center stage in Congress. On May 19, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Republican and ardent abolitionist, began a two-day speech on the Senate floor in which he expounded on the "crime against Kansas" and named two Senators as the perpetrators of the crime. In a book written by Sumner’s private secretary Moorfield Storey, “American Statesmen: Charles Sumner,” published in 1900, Sumner is quoted describing Senator Stephen Douglas, Democrat from Illinois as "a noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator." He saved much of his vitriol for Senator Andrew Butler, Democrat from South Carolina. “The Senator from South Carolina has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight, with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this Senator.”

Republican, Sumner’s attack on the two Democrats, Butler and Douglas did not pass without incident. Moorfield Storey described that “incident” of Thursday, May 22nd, 1856 in the book, American Statesmen: Charles Sumner. “On Thursday, the 22nd, the Senate adjourned early, but Sumner remained writing letters. While he was thus engaged, with legs stretched out under his desk, which was firmly screwed to the floor, Preston. S. Brooks, the son of Senator Butler’s cousin and a representative from South Carolina, came up and said, “Mr. Sumner.” Sumner looked up and saw a perfect stranger, who said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina and on Mr. Butler who is a relative of mine.” Then, without completing the sentence, he struck Sumner a heavy blow on the head with a gutta-percha cane, and followed it by a series of blows until the cane broke. Sumner struggled to rise and in so doing wrenched his desk from the floor and gained his feet, but, by the time he had done so, his consciousness was gone and beneath the continuing blows he fell senseless on the floor.”

The brutality of that cowardly attack made Brooks an instant hero in the South and among Democrats who sent him several replacement canes to show their approval of his actions. It was three years before Sumner recovered from the violent attack. This is the convoluted history of race politics in the USA. The Democrats, the party that in the past supported the enslavement of Africans is now viewed as the party of African Americans, the descendants of those enslaved Africans. The Republicans, the party that historically did not support the enslavement of Africans is today the party that African Americans view with suspicion because of the white supremacist racist policies of Republican leaders who began courting the Southern voters in the 1960s. Neither party has fully supported the civil rights of African Americans. In the 1960s, it was the racist white supremacist southern Democrats who were brutalizing and murdering African American protesters, denying African Americans their civil rights including the right to vote and desperately trying to prevent them from accessing education.

It is ironic that in 2008 as the Democratic Party is close to choosing an African American as its presidential candidate the Republicans are courting African American voters. The presidential candidate of the Republican Party certainly seemed to be making an effort to court the African American voters when he attended the Martin Luther King Jnr Day event. In 1983, McCain was one of the Arizona Republican politicians who voted against the Martin Luther King Jnr Day. In his speech in front of the Lorraine Motel (where Dr. King was assassinated) on Martin Luther King Jnr Day, McCain apologized for voting against the holiday in 1983 and said he supported the holiday later. It was not the politicians who approved the holiday in Arizona, the Arizona voters approved the holiday in 1992. Arizona was losing money because African Americans had launched a successful tourist boycott campaign against that state.
Written in May 2008

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