Black History Lessons from the GOP
The Republican party has a proud history of brave, independent-minded public servants.

Oscar De Priest (Library of Congress)


Kevin D. Williamson

We are closing in on the end of Black History Month, and National Review has not exactly been inundated by copy relating to the occasion.

That is in part as it should be: Conservatives are not big on viewing human beings as racial aggregates. We are capitalists who see people as buyers and sellers, investors and entrepreneurs in a marketplace that cares more about returns than race; we are constitutionalists who believe that we are equal individuals under the law; we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

Conservatives may not have a lot of use for Black History Month, but it does provide us with an occasion for something fruitful: remembering when the Republican party was home to a fair number of legitimate bad-asses — gun-toting, slavery-fighting, fearless men and women who led lives of astounding personal courage and political consequence.

Today’s politicians spend a great deal of time congratulating each other — and themselves — on their courage, as though in the 21st-century U.S. elected officials were being picked off by assassins for holding mildly controversial opinions. The best and worst of them write books with horribly self-aggrandizing titles: Unintimidated, Duty, No Apology, Living History, Taking Heat, Courage and Consequence. The Republican party of 2014 may be overwhelmingly white, but what it really is is overwhelmingly lacking in hombres. (Of course the Democratic party is utterly bereft in that capacity, too, but that’s to be expected; they aren’t the party of Lincoln — they’re the party of your fourth-grade art teacher.) Here are a few inspirational Republicans to remember during Black History Month.

“She drinks whiskey, and she swears, and she is a Republican, which makes her a low, foul creature.” That was one schoolgirl’s description of Mary Fields, a.k.a. Stagecoach Mary, who is an obvious candidate for induction into the inaugural class in the American Bad-Ass Hall of Fame. Miss Fields was a freed slave who worked for some years as the foreman of a Catholic mission in what was then the Montana territory, hauling freight through blizzards and fighting wolves to defend the nuns’ cargo.

She lost that job after a professional dispute with a hired man ended in a gunfight. Gary Cooper, who was slightly acquainted with her, tells it like this: “Mary had a fondness for hard liquor that was matched only by her capacity to put it away, and it’s historical fact that one of Cascade’s early mayors, D. W. Monroe, gave special permission to let Mary drink in the saloons with men, a privilege, if you want to call it that. Born a slave somewhere in Tennessee, some say in 1832, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls ever to draw breath or a .38.” Because she was unsure of her exact birthday, Mr. Cooper recalled, “they would close Cascade schools in her honor whenever she felt like having one.”

Mary Fields was the second woman (and the first black one) to work for the postal service, and that at a time when mail couriers, especially in the west, were not pampered, unionized bureaucrats in ridiculous Roderick Spode outfits, but stagecoach drivers who faced dangers ranging from bandits to Indians. When the snow got too high for her horses, she — a strapping woman of 6 feet, 2 inches, and 200-odd pounds — put on snowshoes and carried the mail on her shoulders.

Does this look like a woman who is big on compromising her Second Amendment rights?