Judy Moore: In the beginning…Democrats and Republicans

Published 11:00 am Thursday, July 13, 2023

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Judy MooreWhen I was a child growing up I heard adults talking about how the Democrats were for the working class while the Republicans were for the rich. In studying history and government along with what the news reveals, from my perspective it’s a little more complex than that. Today, we have numerous African Americans who support the Republican agenda as well as office holders; for example, South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott and Virginia Lt. Governor Winsome Sears. African Americans were affected by the ideology of both parties throughout history which influenced their role as office holders.

In the 1800s, the Democratic philosophy was a limited government in the U. S. and that a market system placed farmers and workers in conflict with aristocratic bankers and investors. They believed that investors manipulated the banking system for profit, encouraging the nation’s desire for fast, unearned wealth, which was the opposite of frugality, hard work and independence. Furthermore, Democrats supported an agricultural economy, yet, wanted market wealth without competition. In contrast, the Republicans supported a free labor system and believed that slavery degraded labor which would eventually send free labor elsewhere. In addition, they praised the North as a place where enterprising people could improve their financial status as opposed to the South’s backward stagnant economy. In order for this free labor system to happen, slavery expansion needed to end which would give economic independence for white Americans. Since many weren’t concerned with the fact that slavery itself was morally wrong, it is surprising to me that many blacks would support Republicans or hold offices in the party.

After black men were eligible to vote throughout Reconstruction, they made up 80% of the Republican voters in the South; this was even more evident with the Democrats supporting white supremacy. It is interesting that no African American men ever held an office in proportion to the population of their state during Reconstruction; not one was elected as governor, yet, only in South Carolina where more than 60% of the population was African American, one house of the legislature was held by them. Blacks held between 15% and 20% of state offices and 6% of Congressional seats(two senators and fifteen representatives). Of those privileged to do so about four-fifths were literate, some were free before the war, four were college graduates and some were farmers and owned land.

Two notable African American Republicans were U. S. Congressman John Mercer Langston and VA Delegate Joseph R. Holmes. It was a shock to me to discover that Democrats during Reconstruction supported the use of violent intimidation via the Ku Klux Klan and voter fraud to oppose their Republican counterparts. For instance, in counties where blacks were heavily populated, white observers would record the names of every black who voted Republican, publishing them in the local newspapers. Various organizations terrorized black and white Republican voters, preventing them from voting as well as assassinating Republican leaders. Langston was denied the first 18 months of his congressional tenure due to voter intimidation and fraud, finally serving the last six months in office. Holmes was murdered on the courthouse steps in Charlotte Court House by individuals who wanted to silence him from speaking up for the rights of free black people.

While writing this article it dawned on me that African Americans have fought and continue to win in securing their rights to be involved and affect the political process of how our government is run to serve the needs of all. I’m thinking that the Democrats shudder, wanting to distance themselves, when they look back on their history in the U. S government to see evidence of their support for the KKK and other forms of white supremacy, intimidation and voter fraud. Let us not return to those days.

Judy Moore, a tour guide with The Central High Museum lives in Wylliesburg,. She can be reached at v5agabond2@gmail.com.