The controversy over Joe Biden saying, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re voting for me or Trump, then you ain’t black” isn’t dying down, but as much political damage as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee is sustaining, one much-overlooked fact amid the brouhaha is that even though Donald Trump has made historic gains in support from black Americans, most will likely agree with Biden and vote for him or whomever the Democrats put up this November, no matter what, no questions asked. This is how it has been for a long time, but it wasn’t always thus. Historically, the strongest defenders of the civil rights of black Americans were Republicans.
Now, it is generally known that the Republican Party was founded as an abolitionist party and that a Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, is responsible for freeing the slaves. Generally known, that is, among those who care to know it. Some prefer politically correct fantasies, like the Northeastern Illinois University plaque honoring “Abraham Lincoln Democrat.”
However, even those who admit that the Republicans freed the slaves while most Democrats were fighting a civil war to keep them enslaved then fast forward, in their potted history of civil rights in America, to the 1960s, when the parties supposedly switched places as the Republicans embraced a “Southern strategy” that involved taking up the racism that the Democrats were in the process of discarding.
There are two things wrong with this scenario: Republicans didn’t forget about black Americans after Lincoln was shot, but actually stood up for the civil rights of black Americans consistently from the Civil War on, and there was no “Southern strategy.” It is a historical myth like so much of what is taught as American history today, designed to ensure that students will grow up to be convinced and loyal leftists. But like all propaganda initiatives, it founders on the facts.
The forthcoming book Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look At Who Was Best, Who Was Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster tells the real story. In the wake of the Civil War, while Southern states resisted Reconstruction measures, denied blacks the right to vote, and allowed the Ku Klux Klan to terrorize black populations, a president sent federal troops to restore order and enforce the law. A Democrat, of course, no? No. It was a Republican, Ulysses S. Grant.
Grant also engaged in serious negotiations to annex the Dominican Republic as a haven for black Americans from the South, so that, he said, “the Southern people would learn the crime of Ku Kluxism, because they would see how necessary the black man is to their own prosperity.” Grant sent Frederick Douglass to Santo Domingo as part of a commission to study the matter; this commission returned with a report saying that most Dominicans favored annexation, but nothing came of it.
A later president pledged that “so far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws,” deplored the denial of voting rights to blacks, and called for a universal education system that would be open to black as well as white children. Got to be a Democrat, right? No, this was another Republican, James A. Garfield. The man who became president in 1881 when Garfield was assassinated, Chester Arthur, had as a young lawyer in 1854 formed part of a legal team that argued successfully for the freedom of any slaves that their owners brought to New York. Arthur also led the defense team for a black woman, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, who was not allowed to ride a New York City streetcar. The future president won the case, and New York City streetcars were desegregated, one hundred years before Rosa Parks, courtesy of Chester Arthur.
Rating America’s Presidents has much more on this. After that there are numerous other examples of Republican presidents standing up for the rights of black Americans, while a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, re-segregated government offices and screened the notorious racist film Birth of a Nation in the White House.
In 1923, Republican President Calvin Coolidge pushed for making lynching a federal crime, but Senate Democrats blocked it. It was indeed a Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, who pushed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he did so for cynical and self-serving reasons, boasting: “I’ll have those n—-rs voting Democratic for two hundred years.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is often cited as the beginning of a switch of the parties, as the Republicans began to pursue the fabled “Southern strategy,” abandoning their longtime support for civil rights and embracing white pro-segregation Southerners, while the Democrats repudiated their sorry history of exacerbating racial hatred and became the party of equal rights for all. Republicans in both the House and Senate voted for the act in higher percentages than did Democrats. The growing Republican support in the South in the 1960s and thereafter is frequently attributed to the supposed racism of the party, but in reality, segregation and Jim Crow ended at the same time that Republican support was growing, and (despite baseless leftist claims) no Republicans campaigned on bringing them back. The “Southern strategy” was not a Republican embrace of racism, but of social conservatism and greater economic freedom than the Democrats offered, both of which had great appeal in the South.
That same economic freedom is what Donald Trump was offering, resulting in historic lows in black unemployment until the corona hysteria began. Now we will have to wait ’til November 3 to see to what extent black Americans heed Biden’s demand that they stay on the Democrat plantation, or recognize at the ballot box the implications of the freedom afforded by Trump’s policies.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 19 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.