Republicans Courting Black America — Again

As Democrats lose ground with African Americans, GOP looks to step in

of Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator.” Most black Americans belonged to the Republican Party until the 1930s when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt included them in his New Deal programs.

Things changed in 1964, however, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson received overwhelming black support at the polls, while black voters rejected the Republican standard-bearer, Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act that year, but Goldwater fought to defeat the measure in Congress calling it a “states rights” matter.

Despite Goldwater’s failure to win the White House, demonstrating hostility toward the interests of African Americans has since paid off for other GOP politicians. President Ronald Reagan initiated massive funding cuts to time-tested social programs that benefited people of color, working families, and the poor. His judicial appointments are part of his lasting legacy: Only six of his 385 judicial appointees were black, and all three of his Supreme Court appointees are part of the block of five conservative justices whose rulings have reversed many of the hard-won civil rights and civil liberties gains from the 1960s. While he won election to the White House convincingly in 1980 and 1984, Reagan was opposed by 90% of black voters on both occasions. Each subsequent Republican presidential candidate has received similar rejection at the polls.

Although surveys conducted by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies show that fewer African Americans identify with the Democratic Party, there is no evidence that they are embracing the GOP. In the Joint Center’s 2002 National Opinion Poll, 63% of African Americans considered themselves Democrats, 10% called themselves Republicans, and 24% described themselves as independents (see “A Shift From the Left,” Newspoints, May 2003). The Joint Center is a Washington, D.C.-based African American think tank.

Despite the much publicized loss of J.C. Watts as the only black congressional Republican, the GOP has made inroads among the black community. Republican Michael Steele was elected lieutenant governor, becoming the first African American to hold a statewide position in Maryland. In New York, State Secretary Randy Daniels, the highest-ranking black member of Republican Gov. George Pataki’s administration, reportedly created a campaign committee to raise money for a statewide race, perhaps for governor, should Pataki not seek a fourth term.

Black community activist Deloyd Parker of Houston says, “The Republican Party isn’t genuine in its claims to develop programs that will benefit black, Hispanic, and low-income people.” Parker’s list of issues he feels the GOP falls short on includes affirmative action, criminal justice, healthcare, civil liberties, and human rights. For the past 33 years, Parker has headed S.H.A.P.E. (Self-Help for African People through Education). At election time, the organization conducts a nonpartisan get-out-the-vote campaign that brings more than 5,000 people to the polls. Parker says he is not a party person and criticizes the Democratic Party for shifting too far to the right, but he doesn’t feel he can turn to the Republican Party as an alternative.

Bishop Mark Tolbert, pastor of Christ Temple Church in Kansas City, Missouri, is another black community-based leader who

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