You’d think that our political leaders of that era time might have been half as smart as LeBron James’s agents, and negotiated us a sign-on bonus. They might have demanded voting rights for blacks in the solidly Democratic South, or perhaps a federal law against lynching in return for our allegiance — it should be remembered that in the South and much of the rest of the country from the 1860s until the 1950s and 60s, white violence against blacks went absolutely unpunished by local and federal law enforcement officials — or at least open white opposition to Jim Crow on the part of Northern white Democrats. But sadly, they did not. When black America abandoned the Republican ship for the Democratic one in the 1930s, we got the same deal we had with the Republicans. We kept the vote outside the South, where we already had it. And now the Democratic Party was designated the ship, and all else the storm.
It’s been that way for more than seven decades, since anybody alive can remember. Although black America has switched parties, we have carried Frederick Douglass’s 1870 rules of engagement with the US political and electoral process with us into the 21st century, picking one of the two establishment political parties, and investing all of our energy, votes and political capital there, regardless of whether the result. Why? Just ask any member of the current black political class, and they’ll tell you: because the Democratic party is the ship, and all else is the storm, whether that party addresses our issues, serves our interests or not. That’s the way it’s been since anybody can remember, and we can still hear our black political class channeling Frederick Douglass today. The Democratic Party, in which they’ve invested their personal careers, 75 or 80 years of our votes and the energy of generations of volunteered labor remains the ship. All else is the storm.
So how’s the 1870 Frederick Douglass strategy political working out for black America nowadays?
Black people in the U.S,, to paraphrase the old saying, may have no permanent friends or enemies, but our permanent interests are easily identifiable. These are jobs, justice and human rights at home, and peace abroad. Is our 1870 political strategy delivering us jobs, justice and human rights at home, and peace abroad? If so, it’s working and we should keep it. If it’s not we need to ask whether or not we’re doing it right, or whether it’s time to try something new, and what that might look like.