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Martin accuses Cain of being “historically ignorant.” But Martin could use a refresher course on American history.
The history of political racism in America is largely a history of the Democratic Party. President Woodrow Wilson introduced Jim Crow into the federal bureaucracy, segregating postal workers, treasury department employees, and those in other sections of the government. Of the nearly two dozen African Americans who served in Congress prior to World War II, just one had belonged to the Democratic Party. The proportion of Republicans voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was actually greater than the proportion of Democrats, a fact that didn’t escape Martin’s notice. “What’s interesting to note is the greatest threat to passage of the bill came from white Southern Democrats, known as Dixiecrats. Moderate Republicans played a crucial role in getting the Civil Rights Act passed,” he conceded. But even his attempt at candor seeks to conceal more than reveal: more than four in five congressional Republicans—more than just moderates—voted for the legislation, and calling Democrats “Dixiecrats” doesn’t mean they’re not Democrats.
Even membership in the most vile racist organization was no impediment to leadership in the Democratic Party. In 1924, the Democratic National Convention refused to repudiate the Ku Klux Klan in an infamous vote. Thirteen years later, the party’s patron saint, Franklin Roosevelt, appointed a former Klansman, Hugo Black, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Before Robert Byrd won election to Congress in 1952, he unanimously won election as Exalted Cyclops in his local Ku Klux Klan chapter. That the leader in a fringe group could become among Democrats a decidedly non-fringe player—Byrd served longer in Congress than any other member and led Senate Democrats from 1977 to 1989—shows how seamlessly professional racists transitioned to professional politicians.
There were certainly Democrats who played heroic roles in establishing equality under the law for black Americans. Harry Truman ordering the integration of the armed forces and Hubert Humphrey pushing his party toward civil rights are two of many examples. But the villains of this chapter in American history are almost exclusively Democrats, too. Bull Connor? Democrat. Theodore Bilbo? Democrat. John Rankin? Democrat.
Why would a young African American growing up in Jim Crow Georgia want to join the party that joined itself to that?
“If Republicans today are angry about a high level of animosity coming from black voters,” Roland Martin writes, “they need to blame their white forefathers who wanted to see the racial divide continue over their refusal to allow African-Americans to be full citizens of the United States.” But it’s Roland Martin, not Herman Cain, who belongs to the party of Roger Taney, Woodrow Wilson, and George Wallace.
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