Today marks the 90th anniversary of a very special White House ceremony. President Woodrow Wilson hosted his Cabinet and the entire U.S. Supreme Court for a screening of D. W. Griffith’s racist masterpiece, Birth of a Nation. The executive mansion’s first film presentation depicted, according to Griffith, the Ku Klux Klan’s heroic, post-Civil War struggle against the menace of emancipated blacks, portrayed by white actors in black face. As black civil-rights leader W.E.B. DuBois explained: In Griffith’s 1915 motion picture, “The freed man was represented either as an ignorant fool, a vicious rapist, a venal or unscrupulous politician, or a faithful idiot.”
Thumbs up, Wilson exclaimed. The film “is like writing history with lightning,” he remarked, adding, “it is all so terribly true.”
This vignette–recently recounted in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary, Unforgivable Blackness–was neither the first nor last time a prominent Democrat plunged a hot knife in black America’s collective back. Each February, Black History Month recalls Democrat Harry Truman’s 1948 desegregation of the armed forces and Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson’s signature on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the greatest black legislative victory since Republican Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1863. This annual commemoration, however, largely overlooks the many milestones Republicans and blacks have achieved together by overcoming reactionary Democrats.
‐”To stop the Democrats’ pro-slavery agenda, anti-slavery activists founded the Republican party, starting with a few dozen men and women in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854,” the calendar notes. “Democratic opposition to Republican efforts to protect the civil rights of all Americans lasted not only throughout Reconstruction, but well into the 20th century. In the south, those Democrats who most bitterly opposed equality for blacks founded the Ku Klux Klan, which operated as the party’s terrorist wing.”
Contemporary partisan hyperbole? Consider this 1866 comment from Governor Oliver Morton (R., Ind.), who is immortalized in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall: “Every one who shoots down Negroes in the streets, burns Negro school-houses and meeting-houses, and murders women and children by the light of their own flaming dwellings, calls himself a Democrat,” Morton said. “Every New York rioter in 1863 who burned up little children in colored asylums, who robbed, ravished, and murdered indiscriminately in the midst of a blazing city for three days and nights, calls himself a Democrat.”
White supremacists worked club in hand with Democrats for decades:
‐May 22, 1856: Two years after the Grand Old party’s birth, U.S. Senator Charles Sumner (R., Mass.) rose to decry pro-slavery Democrats. Congressman Preston Brooks (D., S.C.) responded by grabbing a stick and beating Sumner unconscious in the Senate chamber. Disabled, Sumner could not resume his duties for three years.
‐July 30, 1866: New Orleans’s Democratic government ordered police to raid an integrated GOP meeting, killing 40 people and injuring 150.
‐September 28, 1868: Democrats in Opelousas, Louisiana killed nearly 300 blacks who tried to foil an assault on a Republican newspaper editor.
‐October 7, 1868: Republicans criticized Democrats’ national slogan: “This is a white man’s country: Let white men rule.”
‐April 20, 1871: The GOP Congress adopted the Ku Klux Klan Act, banning the pro-Democrat domestic terrorist group.
‐October 18, 1871: GOP President Ulysses S. Grant dispatched federal troops to quell Klan violence in South Carolina.
‐September 14, 1874: Racist white Democrats stormed Louisiana’s statehouse to oust GOP Governor William Kellogg’s racially integrated administration; 27 are killed.
‐August 17, 1937: Republicans opposed Democratic President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Supreme Court nominee, U.S. Senator Hugo Black (D., Al.), a former Klansman who defended Klansmen against race-murder charges.
‐February 2005: The Democrats’ Klan-coddling today is embodied by KKK alumnus Robert Byrd, West Virginia’s logorrheic U.S. senator and, having served since January 3, 1959, that body’s dean. Thirteen years earlier, Byrd wrote this to the KKK’s Imperial Wizard: “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.” Byrd led Senate Democrats as late as December 1988. On March 4, 2001, Byrd told Fox News’s Tony Snow: “There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time; I’m going to use that word.” National Democrats never have arranged a primary challenge against or otherwise pressed this one-time cross-burner to get lost.
Contrast the KKKozy Democrats with the GOP. When former Klansman David Duke ran for Louisiana governor in 1991 as a Republican, national GOP officials scorned him. Local Republicans endorsed incumbent Democrat Edwin Edwards, despite his ethical baggage. As one Republican-created bumper sticker pleaded: “Vote for the crook: It’s important!”
Republicans also have supported legislation favorable to blacks, often against intense Democratic headwinds:
‐In 1865, Congressional Republicans unanimously backed the 13th Amendment, which made slavery unconstitutional. Among Democrats, 63 percent of senators and 78 percent of House members voted: “No.”
‐In 1866, 94 percent of GOP senators and 96 percent of GOP House members approved the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing all Americans equal protection of the law. Every congressional Democrat voted: “No.”
‐February 28, 1871: The GOP Congress passed the Enforcement Act, giving black voters federal protection.
‐February 8, 1894: Democratic President Grover Cleveland and a Democratic Congress repealed the GOP’s Enforcement Act, denying black voters federal protection.
‐January 26, 1922: The U.S. House adopted Rep. Leonidas Dyer’s (R., Mo.) bill making lynching a federal crime. Filibustering Senate Democrats killed the measure.
‐May 17, 1954: As chief justice, former three-term governor Earl Warren (R., Calif.) led the U.S. Supreme Court’s desegregation of government schools via the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. GOP President Dwight Eisenhower’s Justice Department argued for Topeka, Kansas’s black school children. Democrat John W. Davis, who lost a presidential bid to incumbent Republican Calvin Coolidge in 1924, defended “separate but equal” classrooms.
‐September 24, 1957: Eisenhower deployed the 82nd Airborne Division to desegregate Little Rock’s government schools over the strenuous resistance of Governor Orval Faubus (D., Ark.).
‐May 6, 1960: Eisenhower signs the GOP’s 1960 Civil Rights Act after it survived a five-day, five-hour filibuster by 18 Senate Democrats.
‐July 2, 1964: Democratic President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act after former Klansman Robert Byrd’s 14-hour filibuster and the votes of 22 other Senate Democrats (including Tennessee’s Al Gore, Sr.) failed to scuttle the measure. Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen rallied 26 GOP senators and 44 Democrats to invoke cloture and allow the bill’s passage. According to John Fonte in the January 9, 2003, National Review, 82 percent of Republicans so voted, versus only 66 percent of Democrats.
True, Senator Barry Goldwater (R., Ariz.) opposed this bill the very year he became the GOP’s presidential standard-bearer. However, Goldwater supported the 1957 and 1960 Civil Rights Acts and called for integrating Arizona’s National Guard two years before Truman desegregated the military. Goldwater feared the 1964 Act would limit freedom of association in the private sector, a controversial but principled libertarian objection rooted in the First Amendment rather than racial hatred.
‐June 29, 1982: President Ronald Reagan signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Republican party also is the home of numerous “firsts.” Among them:
‐Until 1935, every black federal legislator was Republican. America’s first black U.S. Representative, South Carolina’s Joseph Rainey, and our first black senator, Mississippi’s Hiram Revels, both reached Capitol Hill in 1870. On December 9, 1872, Louisiana Republican Pinckney Benton Stewart “P.B.S.” Pinchback became America’s first black governor.
‐August 8, 1878: GOP supply-siders may hate to admit it, but America’s first black Collector of Internal Revenue was former U.S. Rep. James Rapier (R., Ala.).
‐October 16, 1901: GOP President Theodore Roosevelt invited to the White House as its first black dinner guest Republican educator Booker T. Washington. The pro-Democrat Richmond Times newspaper warned that consequently, “White women may receive attentions from Negro men.” As Toni Marshall wrote in the November 9, 1995, Washington Times, when Roosevelt sought reelection in 1904, Democrats produced a button that showed their presidential nominee, Alton Parker, beside a white couple while Roosevelt posed with a white bride and black groom. The button read: “The Choice Is Yours.”
‐GOP presidents Gerald Ford in 1975 and Ronald Reagan in 1982 promoted Daniel James and Roscoe Robinson to become, respectively, the Air Force’s and Army’s first black four-star generals.
‐November 2, 1983: President Reagan established Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday, the first such honor for a black American.
‐President Reagan named Colin Powell America’s first black national-security adviser while GOP President George W. Bush appointed him our first black secretary of state.
‐President G.W. Bush named Condoleezza Rice America’s first black female NSC chief, then our second (consecutive) black secretary of State. Just last month, one-time Klansman Robert Byrd and other Senate Democrats stalled Rice’s confirmation for a week. Amid unanimous GOP support, 12 Democrats and Vermont Independent James Jeffords opposed Rice–the most “No” votes for a State designee since 14 senators frowned on Henry Clay in 1825.
“The first Republican I knew was my father, and he is still the Republican I most admire,” Rice has said. “He joined our party because the Democrats in Jim Crow Alabama of 1952 would not register him to vote. The Republicans did. My father has never forgotten that day, and neither have I.”
“We started our party with the express intent of protecting the American people from the Democrats’ pro-slavery policies that expressly made people inferior to the state,” wrote Rep. Christopher Cox (R., Calif.), who authorized the calendar last year as House Policy chairman. “Today, the animating spirit of the Republican Party is exactly the same as it was then: free people, free minds, free markets, free expression, and unlimited opportunity.”
“Leading the organized opposition to these ideas 150 years ago, just as today, was the Democratic Party,” Cox continued. “Then, just as now, their hallmarks were politically correct speech; a preference for government control over individual initiative…and an insistence on seeing people as members of groups rather than as individuals.”
But what about racial preferences? The GOP’s embrace of color-neutral policies parallels Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality over racial scale tipping. “The constitutional amendments that the Republican party supported after the Civil War did not advance preferences by race,” Cox told me. “They made government view every person as an individual, not as a member of a racial group.”
Alas, even as Republicans promote work over welfare, educational choice, and personal retirement accounts, all of which would empower blacks, some 90 percent of blacks vote Democrat as reflexively as knees kick when tapped with rubber mallets. After inspecting the Democrats’ handiwork–e.g. the tar pit that is public assistance, the Dresden that is the ghetto school system, and the pyramid scheme that is Social Security (which robs too many blacks who die before recouping their “investment”)–black Americans should ask Democrats: “Yesterday’s gone. What have you done for us lately?”
–New York commentator Deroy Murdock is an advisory board member of Project 21, a Washington-based network of black free-market advocates.