About fifteen years ago, I spoke with a young African American woman who was a Congressional aide on Capitol Hill. As we spoke, I extolled the virtues of the Democratic Party’s relationship with black leaders and the African American community. I pointed to the vibrant Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) as evidence of the empowerment of African American leadership in America. But she had a funny look on her face that gave me pause.
In a moment she said, “You know, Capitol Hill is the greatest plantation of all. The hours we work, the wages we get, what is expected of us, the whole system – it’s crazy.”
Every presidential election, African American voters turn out in numbers above ninety percent to vote for the Democratic candidate, like clockwork. The reason for that was succinctly summed up by the father of former Republican congressman J.C. Watts Jr., J.C. (Buddy) Watts Sr., who said simply, “A black person voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.”
But what is expected of the Black community, which really has nowhere else to go politically? A number of things are expected – foremost, allegiance to Democratic Party bosses.
The plantation analogy was a sharp-edged reminder of the Democratic Party’s not very distant post-Civil War past. Up until the 1960s, the Democratic Party did more to prevent African American empowerment than to facilitate it.
Southern Democrats, also known for generations as Dixiecrats, were often sons and daughters of the Confederacy. As Lincoln was a Republican, Southern whites fled from anything Republican and into the ranks of a very welcoming Democratic Party for a hundred years.
It was not until Richard Nixon reached out to the Dixiecrats in 1968 and made them welcome in the Republican Party that a Republican could get elected dogcatcher south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Nixon’s timing was no coincidence. In the 1960s, African American activists had begun to pressure the Democratic Party to accept change and adopt civil rights as a part of the national platform, alienating the old Jim Crow wing of the Democratic Party. Nixon saw that and capitalized on it with what came to be known as his Southern Strategy.
From the African American perspective, black Americans, and Southern blacks in particular, were tired of the rampant discrimination, segregation, and violence against blacks that persisted in the South. They wanted an end to systemic injustice, and they saw voting rights as key to effecting those changes.
There was a resolve on the part of black leaders that if meaningful change in terms of civil rights were to take place, African American leaders would have to challenge the Democratic Party power structure head-on. They did.
In August of 1964, the Democratic Convention was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was also “Freedom Summer.” President Lyndon B. Johnson was nominated Democratic candidate for president, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota for Vice President. But history little notes the historic presence and actions of the all-black Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).
The MFDP challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation as not having been chosen in accordance with Democratic Party rules. Quite true, as no black was allowed to participate in the process. MFDP activists mounted a protest on the floor of the convention, demanding a voice. A deal was struck. Johnson would choose 68 MFDP members as “at large delegates.” Two would have voting rights. The groundwork was laid for constructive black political opposition to the Democratic Party power structure. Change, real change, was now possible.
Change is again in the air this election cycle. Again the Democratic Party is resisting that change. Again it will take courage and action to achieve meaningful change.
Voters, black and white alike, are faced with a stark choice – the same choice, incidentally, they were faced with in 2008. Does our country urgently need change? In 2008 the voters, black and white alike, said yes. So far in 2016, the tide for change seems even stronger.
The Democratic Party bosses, however, are sending a clear signal who they want to be nominated for president in 2016, and it’s not the candidate of change.
Time to obey or time to challenge?
By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News