Black History Month, Remember the GOP
February 4, 2003
By Andrew Sarchus
February is Black History Month, and Trent Lott is forgotten,
but not gone. Senator Lott was forced from the office of Majority
Leader of the U.S. Senate because he spoke the truth about
his innate racism. He waxed nostalgic about Strom Thurmond's
1948 Dixiecrat presidential bid. He said if Strom had been
elected, we could have avoided "all these problems." First
he attempted to pass off his remarks as idle flattery of a
once vicious race-baiter who is now a desiccated old man.
Then Lott tried to backpedal when interviewed on Black Entertainment
Television, endorsing affirmative action and a host of other
civil rights measures that he previously opposed. Mr. Lott's
pandering and posturing jolted even veteran press cynics.
After dithering for several days while Lott piled blunder
upon blunder, George W. Bush fired broadside at him, saying
racism has no place in the Republican Party. Lott turned turtle
and sank, but has since been refloated by his Republican Senate
Colleagues and now holds a prime Committee Chair.
Following Lott's demotion from the ranks of GOP leadership,
the Bush administration turned back to their pet issue: All
Iraq, all the time. Oh, except for when our unelected Warmonger-in-Chief
paused a couple of minutes to renominate racist fellow-traveler
Charles Pickering for a federal judgeship and file "friend
of the court" papers against the University of Michigan's
affirmative action program--on Martin Luther King's birthday.
The crassness of these actions, in view of what happened to
Trent Lott scant weeks before, is mind-numbing. These moves
by GW Bush highlight a sickness within the Republican Party
that profoundly affects all Americans. The GOP caught the
disease from Southern Democrats--Dixiecrats--who emigrated
en masse to the Republicans after the Civil Rights and Voting
Rights acts became law in the 1960's. This influx of Southerners
brought electoral victories to the GOP, but at a price--the
Grand Old Party slowly shifted its positions on Civil Rights
to conform with those once supported by men like Strom Thurmond.
The GOP did apply some verbal dress codes to racist behaviors.
No longer could spittle-flecked hate-mongers openly rail at
integration and intermarriage in Southern states. Republicans
use bland little code words and phrases ("states' rights")
to convey racist ideas. Like their Dixiecrat ancestors, Southern
Republicans try to suppress black voter turnout, but do this
by crying "vote fraud" in majority black districts and issuing
would-be black voters "helpful" reminders to vote the day
after the general elections. Fewer photo ops here than when
Sheriff Bull Conner turned the dogs loose against blacks in
Birmingham a generation ago. The results are the same--fewer
black votes to tip elections towards progressive candidates.
When GOP operatives are caught in such practices, the Republican
leadership's standard defense is to proclaim that they are
the "Party of Lincoln." Yet among southern Conservatives,
an increasingly popular pastime involves trashing The Great
Emancipator as a man who cared little about slavery and who
sought only to increase the power of the Federal government.
Some neo-confederates use this argument to condone and even
praise Jefferson Davis for rebelling against the "tyrannical"
Lincoln administration. A scurrilous recent book by a Southern
apologist, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln,
His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, received nods of approval
among many GOP leaders in the South who hold Lincoln in low
With the enigmatic retirement of Congressman J.C. Watts earlier
this year, not one elected official in the national government
is a black Republican. Not one black conservative is acknowledged
as a political leader of consequence in black communities.
Since Lott fell on his repartee, Black conservative pundits
and the two strategically-placed Bush appointees, Colin Powell
and Condi Rice, have acknowledged that the racist sins of
the past are not yet atoned for. But the key issue, support
for affirmative action, is muted among black conservatives.
Why? Because, to paraphrase liberal black activist Harry Belafonte,
black conservatives are only in the GOP "big tent" so long
as they uphold the agenda put forth by the white men who control
the Republican Party. And many of those white men are Southerners
and/or apologists for the "ideals" of the Confederacy. Witness
Trent Lott and John Ashcroft flattering Secessionists in Southern
Partisan magazine, or Bush's calculated appearance before
paleo-conservative race-baiters at Bob Jones University in
the 2000 South Carolina Primary.
Republicans stack their conventions with black faces on the
podium where the cameras can catch them, while the delegates
are overwhelmingly white. George Bush appears before black
church congregations and offers their ministers prime cuts
from his unproven "faith-based initiatives" program while
starving Head Start and the Children's Health Initiatives
Program of desperately needed funds. Declining to speak to
the leaders of the Black Congressional Conference and the
NAACP is now annual ritual for Republican presidents. Instead,
ad hoc groups of black conservative church- and business people
are thrown together and nod in agreement as Bushites shill
for the standard GOP want list--a list always long on "opportunity"
and short of meaningful action.
The Republicans, without a trace of irony, accuse Democrats
of "keeping black people on the (Liberal) Plantation", and
complain that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the real racists
when these black leaders point out examples of white racist
behavior. GOP politicos appropriate the words of Martin Luther
King about judging people by "content of character" over color
of skin and use King's phrase to justify the ending of affirmative
action. They talk about a "color-blind" nation and push policies
that will result in resegregation of universities, public
schools, and government agencies--all this to avoid riling
the white Southerners that now provide electoral muscle for
For Southerners awash in nostalgia for the post-Confederate,
pre-integration period, I offer two books: At the Hands
of Persons Unknown by Philip Dray and Without Sanctuary:
Lynching Photography in America (James Allen, editor)
are numbing accounts of lynching, and show how for generations
mobs of otherwise decent, church-going white Americans murdered
perhaps 10,000 black Americans without mercy, trial, or fear
of the authorities. The victim's genitals, ears, and fingers
were sometimes amputated while he or she was still alive.
The victim's torn body was often burned. Bones and body parts
were snatched up as mementos by members of the crowd. Photographers
snapped pictures of the lynch mobs standing beneath their
dangling, mangled victims: smiling white faces of men, women
and children satisfied with their work.
The main purpose behind lynching was to instill fear--so
that black Americans, fearing the mobs, stayed in places where
white Americans assigned them--back of the bus, off the campus,
out of the voting booth. Today's GOP, kowtowing to racist
sympathizers, is working on similar goals in a more refined
fashion, all the while touting itself as the future of "color-blind"
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
was asked what Russians would do regarding past horrors perpetrated
on their nation by Communist ideology. Solzhenitsyn replied
that if a person has a terrible sickness and is cured, he
rejoices loudly. But if the sickness is still in him, he remains
silent and avoids those who inquire about his health.
Many Republicans would prefer to remain silent and avoid
discussion about the racist realities of 20th Century America.
Instead, let Liberals and Conservatives loudly demand that
GOP leaders renounce this sick legacy in all its forms, and
in far more than words.