Black American Politics in the 21st Century: Is It Time For A New Plan?

When our esteemed ancestor and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass famously declared, back in the 1870s that “the Republican party is the ship and all else is the storm” he summed up black America’s rules of engagement with the nation’s political and electoral apparatus. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, nineteenth century Democrats were the Confederate party, the party of secession and slavery, with whom no accommodation was possible. So there it was. The Republican party of that era was the ship, and all else the storm.

But like rides on other ships we have taken, this one did not go to a happy place. Before Emancipation was a dozen years old, Northern white Republicans were washing their hands and looking the other way while Southern black Republican sheriffs, assessors, judges, county, state, federal legislators and other officials, were evicted from their posts amid hails of gunfire, white mob violence and ubiquitous threats. Republican voters in the South, mostly black, were driven from the polls by a reign of terror that robbed many of their lands and businesses took thousands of mostly black lives, while white Northern Republicans averted their eyes and did nothing.

But this betrayal failed to shake the rock solid political allegiance of most African Americans. For the most part, the Republican party was still the ship, and all else, the storm. Where and when they were allowed to vote at all, blacks continued to vote Republican. Over the next five decades, hundreds of thousands left Dixie for better opportunities throughout the north and west, where for the most part they remained Republicans. The Frederick Douglass strategy held sway over most of black politics till the Great Depression of the early 1930s, when black America finally jumped that Republican ship for the Democratic one.

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