Democrats have shady past, but so does GOP

September 25, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

So let me get this straight: folks at the National Black Republican Association put out an ad that's considered so offensive that a black Republican has to ask them to slow their roll?

Oh, don't you love living in America?

Last Thursday, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, no doubt realizing that he's going to need a boodle of Democratic votes if he has any shot at being elected Maryland's next U.S. senator, issued a news release condemning the NBRA radio ad.

The ad is "insulting to Marylanders and should come down immediately," Steele's release reads. "Although they may have good intentions, there is no room for this kind of slash-and-burn partisan politics in the important conversation about how to best bring about meaningful change to Washington, D.C., and get something done for Maryland. This is exactly the kind of attack politics Marylanders are sick of and why it's time to change this Washington brand of cutthroat politics."

Now what did the ad say that's causing all this dudgeon?

Oh, that Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican and that Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan.

"If they said that, it's inaccurate," Taylor Branch, author of a biographical trilogy of King, said last week about the NBRA claim that King was a Republican. On the KKK charge, Branch hinted that the NBRA may actually be on more factual footing.

"The Democratic Party was the party of white supremacy," Branch said of the years during and immediately after Reconstruction, "and the Klan was the agent of white supremacy."

In fact, even a cursory reading of the history of the period indicates that the NBRA folks may have been too kind in their assessment that the Democratic Party started the Klan. Read these excerpts from Charles M. Christian's Black Saga, which gives a year-by-year capsule of highlights and lowlights in black American history:

"1874 - White Democrats Battle Black Militia For Control of Arkansas Government: The predominantly Black militia of Arkansas was called upon to secure the state capitol after white Democrats sought to take it by force.

"1874 - Reconstruction Ends in Texas: On January 17, Democrats carrying firearms seized the Texas capitol to wrest control of the state government.

"1874 - Blacks Massacred in Louisiana: On August 30, in Coushatta, Louisiana, several Blacks and Republican officeholders were slain by white Democrats.

"1874 - Louisiana Statehouse Seized: On September 14, an angry mob of white Democrats seized the Louisiana statehouse in an attempted coup d'etat.

"1874 - Riot Breaks Out in Vicksburg: On December 7, as Blacks attempted to prevent the forcible ejection of Sheriff Crosby, a Black man, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, seventy-five Blacks were killed by white Democrats and Klan members."

Yes, 1874 was a bad year for black folks and their white allies in America. And 1875 was worse. That was the year of the infamous "Mississippi Plan." The details are in Christian's book:

"On November 3, the Democrats celebrated as they won many state and local governmental offices throughout the South. They effectively suppressed the Black vote in Mississippi through fraud and violence. The tactics of the Mississippi Democrats were known as the `Mississippi Plan.' They involved staged riots, political assassinations, massacres, social and economic intimidation and murder. The plan succeeded in defeating the Reconstruction governments in South Carolina and Louisiana, thus restoring white supremacy."

But if NBRA is going to hold Democrats accountable for the things they did more than 130 years ago, it's only fair to hold Republicans accountable for the things they did. Or, more accurately, didn't do.

President Grant was the Republican chief executive who refused to send federal troops into Mississippi to protect black and white Republicans from the terror of white Democrats. It was Republicans who sold their black allies down the river and removed all federal troops from the rest of the South after the election of 1876.

Branch said Republicans turned their backs on loyal black party members at their 1964 convention in San Francisco. Delegations that were traditionally black were "purged," according to Branch, and replaced with white ones.

"It was a coup with long-lasting effects," said Branch, who delves into considerable detail about what happened at the 1964 Republican convention in Pillar of Fire, the second book in his King trilogy.

Branch covered what happened at the 1964 Democratic convention in Atlantic City, N.J., as well. President Johnson took considerable heat, according to Branch, for the controversy that erupted after there was a dispute over whether to seat an all-white Mississippi delegation or one called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, led by black activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

It looks like both parties went out of their way to fail black folks at different times in history.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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