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The Republican Party and African Americans
In 1854, the Republican Party came into existence primarily for the purpose of abolishing slavery. Under President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, that evil institution came to an end, and the beginning of civil rights for black Americans began.
The first elected Senators and member of the House of Representatives were African Americans.
It wasn't until 1935 during FDR's New Deal era that a black Democrat, Arthur Mitchell, won a seat in the House of Representatives.
First African American Senator
Hiram R. Revels from Mississippi became the first African American to occupy a seat in the United States Senate on February 25, 1870. He served only a partial term, but Blanche K. Bruce, elected March 5, 1875, served a full term. Both men were Republicans.
Many African Americans have held influential offices in state legislatures as Republicans. Beginning in 1869 African Americans held congressional offices as Republicans, a trend that continued until 1935, when the first Black Democrat won a seat in the House of Representatives.
Republican Party Founded on Abolition Issue
The issue of slavery is responsible for the birth of the Republican Party, particularly the abolition of slavery. The first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order, which ended the institutiion of slavery in the United States.
Nevertheless, three constitutional amendments were required to guarantee the rights of former slaves. The thirteenth amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. The fourteenth amendment bestowed citizenship on Blacks, and the fifteenth amendment guaranteed voting right to freed slaves.
Still, the recognition of civil rights for African Americans, women, and minorities, has been a concept slow to be widely embraced. Because of the constitutional amendments which bolstered the Emancipation Proclamation, all the so-called civil rights legislation that has been enacted since the 1950s has actually been superfluous.
However, the constant passing of "civil rights acts" seems to be required to remind the public at large that all citizens, in fact, have "rights."
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
New Deal Democrats
Until the “New Deal” era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt beginning in 1932, most Blacks identified with and voted for the Republican Party. The Depression of 1929 negatively affected both Whites and Blacks economically, and by the time FDR’s government programs promised hope for reversal, many Blacks, and Whites, switched their allegiance to the Democratic Party led by FDR.
And even though those programs offered only short term advantages to some, the ensuing claims of the Democratic Party as the party of the “little man” stuck. FDR’s “New Deal” programs sounded good but had the opposite effect; an example of the destruction of the New Deal was the “Agricultural Adjustment Act,” which ushered in a huge reduction in the growing of crops and farming which ended many jobs for Blacks.
Labor Unions Excluded Blacks
The National Labor Relations/Wagner Act allowed the establishment of labor unions, from which Blacks were excluded. Also the concept of a “minimum wage” was established to guarantee workers better pay, but instead of paying workers the mandates minimum wage, employers simply fired them or failed to hire them. The “minimum wage” caused an upsurge in the unemployment rate among Blacks, especially teens, just as it does every time a new "minimum wage" hike is passed.
Another irony involving Blacks swelling the Democratic Party ranks is the issue of more recent civil rights. In 1948, a splinter group called Dixiecrats strongly opposed desegregation in the South and wanted to retain the old Jim Crow laws.
The issue of civil rights and integration became a political hot potato for the next five decades. President Eisenhower signed in to law the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was little more than a token symbol having been watered down in the Senate by Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat.
Democrats Acted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act
By 1964, a new Civil Rights bill was debated in the Senate. Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Al Gore, Sr., both Democrats, led a filibuster that nearly derailed the bill’s chance of passage, until Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, who was the Republican Minority Leader, broke the filibuster.
In the House of Representatives 40% of the Democrats voted against the bill, while only 20% of the Republicans opposed it; in the Senate 21 Democrats voted against it, while only 6 Republicans voted no.
Beginning with its formation, the Republican Party has been the leader in leveling the playing field for African Americans, women, and minorities.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes