GOP must recall civil rights heritage
"I want you to think with me this morning from the subject: rediscovering lost values. Rediscovering lost values. There is something wrong with our world, something fundamentally and basically wrong. I don't think we have to look too far to see that. I'm sure that most of you would agree with me in making that assertion." - Martin Luther King Jr.
The arrival of King's holiday has new meaning to me this year. In 2013, I came out of the closet - as a Black Republican.
Coming out was more than just saying I am a Republican; it required putting my words into action. When I started coming out in 2013 many of my Democratic associates were very surprised. Aware of the stereotype that Republicans are white and racist, I questioned them about why they were surprised I was a Republican.
It all boiled down to their opinion that Republicans don't care about poor people - especially black people. My work in the community demonstrated that I did care and therefore I must be a Democrat. My counter-argument was that as a Republican it is my civic responsibility to work in my community; example: Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Michael Steele, Condoleezza Rice… sorry I got carried away.
Is it possible all of us have forgotten our history?
Speaking of history, let's set the story straight about who persecuted whom. It was a group of Democrats who created the KKK to lynch and intimidate white and black Republicans. In the modern period, Republicans have rarely had the U.S. congressional heft to set straight a false national narrative. Selma, Bloody Sunday - Republicans were not in power. Little Rock Nine - not in power, but a Republican president sent in troops to escort them safely. Passing of the Civil Rights Act - the bill passed because Republicans, then in the minority, voted in favor by a higher percentage than the Democrats. In the nine states listed in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Republicans were not in power. In fact, those states had 100 years of Democratic rule. The law was installed to protect the residents from the prevailing Democratic power structure.
And by the way, guess who forgot to adjust the numbers in Section 4 of the VRA that would have averted the Supreme Court's ruling? Who was president in 2009? Shouldn't the president have insisted that Congress update the numbers? And why didn't the Democratic administration jump on that issue? I'm just saying.
Now my dear Republicans, don't you start cheering, "cuz I got sumtin fah ya too" (Yes, I sometimes use a little Ebonics). How dare you remain quiet for so long! How dare you let them call you racist and not say something about it! How could you forget that you were the party of abolition whose president freed the slaves?
History seems to keep repeating itself; we're always letting a faction of the party influence the whole group. I get it. As Republicans, we support the freedom to choose, favor dissent, state's rights and personal responsibility. And since we can't point to a time in history when we as a party have dominated the nation for decades, you may have been getting a little itchy for a win in 1964 and chose to sidestep defining issues.
That year, the Republicans chose Barry Goldwater as their presidential nominee. I wasn't there, but history shows that black Republicans repeatedly asked the party to not offend and insult the black community, who had been supporters for so long. Even baseball legend Jackie Robinson, an outspoken Republican, pleaded with the party to nominate a different candidate because of the message it was sending. The black community wanted Republicans to vigorously embrace and even celebrate their past history. The party didn't listen.
It's now 50 years later from that 1964 election and I'm asking my party, "How's that working out for you?" Not to worry. There has been a rumbling within the black community and history/fate/karma has brought you to the edge of your wilderness wanderings. This is the point where you can choose to embrace your original history (freed slaves and abolitionist) or you can wither away.
This is more than just an episode on the Price is Right with the audience yelling for you to pick, "Door Number 2!" This is important. No matter what you do, we will press forward - the phoenix rises, even from its own ashes.
Regina Roundtree is chairperson/president of CT Black Republicans and Conservatives and the CEO of Cogent Consulting. She also chairs CTGOP's Urban Affairs Coalition.