It’s not Herman Cain’s comment that many African Americans are “brainwashed” against conservatism or his declaration that he “won’t stay on the Democrat plantation” that really infuriates liberals. It’s the presidential candidate’s very existence. Blacks aren’t supposed to be conservative.
And Herman Cain certainly isn’t supposed to be sitting atop the field of Republican presidential aspirants. But that’s where a new CBS News poll places the former pizza king, garnering, along with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the support of 17 percent of Republican primary voters. Cain’s gain is not sitting well among those with race on the brain.
“Herman Cain is probably well liked by some of the Republicans because it hides the racist elements of the Republican Party,” quipped comedienne Janeane Garofalo. “Herman Cain provides this great opportunity so you can say ‘Look, this is not a racist, anti-immigrant, anti-female, anti-gay movement. Look we have a black man.’” CNN’s Cornell Belcher actually called the African American presidential candidate “racist” and “bigoted.” Jesse Jackson described the former Godfather’s Pizza chief executive officer’s characterization of the relationship between African Americans and the Democratic Party “demeaning and insulting” to black voters.
The talking head really losing his head over Herman Cain is Roland Martin. The CNN pundit writes, “You would think that a black man born and raised in Georgia, who was a teenager during the civil rights movement, would understand the transition of African-Americans from voting overwhelmingly Republican to strongly supporting the Democratic Party.”
During the civil rights movement, every member of the Georgia congressional delegation was a Democrat and every member of the Georgia congressional delegation save one voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The only African Americans elected to Congress from Georgia prior to the civil rights movement were Republicans. When Republican Fletcher Thompson helped break the Democratic stranglehold on the state’s Washington delegation in 1966, he gave an African American a job in his local office. However pedestrian this sounds today, this had never happened in that district. Even as seemingly benign a symbol of the New South as Jimmy Carter won election as governor after his campaign peddled a photo of his opponent with black basketball players to rallying Klansmen and as governor visited the _Confederados_—descendants of American Southerners who emigrated to Brazil following the Civil War—in 1972.
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.