Growing up I was aware that my parents were FDR Democrats, which was understandable in light of Roosevelt being the president through most of the Great Depression and World War II. You can’t go through that much as a nation and not feel a certain affinity to the leader who helped you conquer those virtually insurmountable obstacles.
As I came of age where I began to take an interest in world events, and particularly national and international politics, I remember being very much taken with the youthfulness of Senator Jack Kennedy, and his charisma which reached every age group. He was energetic, challenging all of us to exercise more, and get in shape. He encouraged us to go on 50 mile hikes! Remember?
The presidential election of 1960 was historic. The Democrats put up Senator Jack Kennedy, and the Republicans put up Vice-President Richard Nixon. This was historic for several reasons: First, Nixon was expected to win the election seeing as he had just been Eisenhower’s VP for the previous eight years. Second, Kennedy was the first Catholic to be elected president (“The Pope will run America!”). And third, it was the first election where there were a significant number of Americans with TVs to watch the debates. The impression the television provided for those who watched the debates has often been considered to be the reason for Kennedy’s victory. Being black & white TV then, the lighting, and therefore shadowing of the two candidates, was very important. Kennedy had light brown hair and a strong, manly face sporting a ruddy, healthy complexion. Nixon, on the other hand, had dark, almost black hair and pasty, sickly skin, revealing a dark beard that gave him a sinister look. Nixon was clean-shaven, but the camera emphasized his dark hair, accenting his less-than-attractive facial features.
Eight years later Nixon would again emerge as the Republican candidate for president. He came across much better this time, defeating Democrat candidate Hubert Humphrey. The odds-on favorite for the Democratic Party was Bobby Kennedy, Jack’s younger brother, who had served as Attorney General during his brother’s presidency. Bobby was young, attractive, energetic, experienced in Washington politics, and many believe he would have been elected president in 1968 had he not been assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian who was angry at Bobby Kennedy for his promise to send 50 jet aircraft to Israel if Kennedy became the next Commander-in-Chief.
It was a couple of months earlier that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray. Thus the great Civil Rights leader was dead only a short time after the Civil Rights Bill had been passed by Congress.
Here’s where the story gets interesting.
The issues of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement were surrounded by politics. No surprise there, but did you know that if it had not been for the Republican Party, the Civil Rights Bill would never have been passed by Congress? President Lyndon Johnson was handed the bill for his signature in 1964. But do you know how the bill managed to get to the president’s desk? Here’s the way it was voted on in Congress. In the original House of Representatives version the vote was Democrats AYES: 61%, NAYS: 39%. Republicans AYES: 80%, NAYS: 20%. The Senate version – Democrats AYES: 69%, NAYS: 31%. Republicans AYES: 82%, NAYS: 18%.
One more bit of history to satisfy your thirst for knowledge. Abraham Lincoln was the first president of the new Republican Party. It was his wish to bring slavery to an end, however, not at the expense of bringing the nation to the brink of civil war. Preserve the Union! was his goal. Even before he took office, several of the southern states seceded from the Union. Undaunted, he still made every attempt to keep the remaining southern states in the Union. He believed if he could isolate the south, preventing them from transporting their slaves with them into the new territories out west, then slavery would eventually die out in the south without the need for civil war. As we know, this strategy did not work. One of the reasons is because the southern Democrats would have nothing to do with liberating slaves, even though only 15% of southerners owned slaves. The other problem had to do with northern Democrats opposing Lincoln’s efforts to bring slavery to an end. They wanted nothing to do with it.
It was this same obstructionist thinking in the 1850s and 1860s that we saw one hundred years later opposing the Civil Rights Bill. The Congress in 1964 was controlled by the Democrats, which means every one of their committees was chaired by a Democrat. A brief look will show that these chairmen were southerners who still held onto their racist leanings.
It was the Republicans who won the day in defeating slavery, and it was Republicans who put the vote over the top on the Civil Rights Bill.
So here’s my dilemma: If it was Democrats who were obstructing the abolition of slavery, and were dragging their feet on Civil Rights, how is it that Democrats are commonly believed to be the friend of Blacks in America?