On more than one occasion, I have heard Republicans in Front Royal say that the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln. In 1858, when Abraham Lincoln squared off against Stephen Douglas in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, the Republican Party was indeed the party of Lincoln.
The phrase, “The party of Lincoln” implies that the Republican Party is pro-civil rights and acts in the best interests of black Americans. The Republican Party that existed in 1858 no longer exists. The Republican Party today is the party of voter suppression and regression of voting rights. Why? Because black voters support the pro-civil rights Democratic Party by wide margins.
Conversely, the Democratic Party of Stephen Douglas is the not the Democratic Party of today.
What changed and when did the party of Lincoln cease to exist? The movement of black voters to the modern Democratic Party began with the New Deal, continued with the integration of the military under President Truman and was highlighted with Hubert Humphrey’s call at the Democratic Convention in 1948 for his party to come out of the darkness of states’ rights into the sunshine of human rights. Humphrey’s oration led to a walkout by Southern Democrats – or Dixiecrats.
Southern Democrats opposed civil rights legislation, upheld restrictions on voting rights and opposed school integration. Southern Democrats controlled the levers of power in the Congress.
A further turning point came with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequently the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the 11 states of the old Confederacy, there are 22 seats in the U.S. Senate. In 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, 20 of those 22 seats were occupied by Democrats and only two were held by Republicans.
Before the vote, President Lyndon Johnson went before Congress and declared “We shall overcome!” After the vote, Sen. Richard Russell, of Georgia, told Johnson that the “solid South” that the Democrats had relied on over the years was no more. Russell was right.
When Richard Nixon came to power in the late 1960s, he adopted a Southern strategy designed to pull Democratic opponents of civil rights legislation into the Republican Party. Dixiecrats became Republicans.
In the Senate today, Republicans in the states of confederacy hold 19 seats while Democrats hold only three.
In the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy won the electoral votes of South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, North Carolina and Arkansas. In 2016, all 11 states of the old confederacy were won by Donald Trump.
In 1960, 32 percent of blacks voted for Richard Nixon. In 1964, only 6 percent of blacks supported Barry Goldwater. In 2016, only 8 percent of blacks voted for Donald Trump. When the Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who led marchers throughout the South in defense of voting rights, moved to restore the act to its full powers. Republicans, led by former U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, then chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, thwarted his efforts.
Race continues to define our politics across the country. Republicans speak about voting fraud and not about voting rights. Actions to combat voting fraud are a solution in search of a problem. The loyal support of black voters to the Democratic Party is crucial to its fortunes while the suppression of the black vote is key to Republican dominance in the South.
So, Dixiecrats, who abandoned the Democrats after passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, have become Republicans and they do precisely what their Dixiecrat forefathers did. They suppress the right to vote by black citizens.
Neo-confederate campaigns like that run by Corey Stewart will no longer work. The Republican Party needs to improve its appeal to black voters. Abandoning its strategy of suppressing the black vote in the South and elsewhere is a good place to start.
Tom Howarth is a Front Royal resident.