Hiram R. Revels from Mississippi became the first African American to occupy a seat in the United State Senate on February 25, 1870,. He served only a partial term, but Blanche K. Bruce, elected March 5, 1875, served a full term. Both men were Republicans.
Many African Americans have held influential offices in state legislatures as Republicans. Beginning in 1869 African Americans held congressional offices as Republicans, a trend that continued until 1935, when the first Black Democrat won a seat in the House of Representatives.
Republican Party Founded On Abolition Issue
The Republican Party was founded primarily on the issue of the abolition of slavery. And it was under a Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, that slavery was abolished and civil rights established for African Americans. In the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln announced the end of slavery.
It took the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, however, to complete the abolition. The Fourteenth Amendment which recognized Blacks as citizens was proposed by Republicans and became part of the Constitution in 1868. Then Republicans pushed through the Fifteenth Amendments to guarantee voting rights to recently freed slaves.
New Deal Democrats
Until the “New Deal” era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt beginning in 1932, most Blacks identified with and voted for the Republican Party. The Depression of 1929 negatively affected both Whites and Blacks economically, and by the time FDR’s government programs promised hope for reversal, many Blacks, and Whites, switched their allegiance to the Democratic Party led by FDR.
And even though those programs offered only short term advantages to some, the ensuing claims of the Democratic Party as the party of the “little man” stuck. FDR’s “New Deal” programs sounded good but had the opposite effect: For example, the “Agricultural Adjustment Act” resulted in a huge reduction in the growing of crops and farming which ended many jobs for Blacks.
Labor Unions Exclude Blacks
The National Labor Relations/Wagner Act allowed the establishment of labor unions, from which Black were excluded. Also the concept of a “minimum wage” was established to guarantee workers better pay, but instead of paying workers the minimum, employers simply fired them or failed to hire them. The “minimum wage” caused an upsurge in the unemployment rate among Blacks, especially teens.
Another irony involving Blacks swelling the Democratic Party ranks is the issue of more recent civil rights. In 1948, a splinter group called Dixiecrats strongly opposed desegregation in the South and wanted to retain the old Jim Crow laws. The issue of civil rights and integration became a political hot potato for the next five decades. President Eisenhower signed in to law the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was little more than a token symbol having been watered down in the Senate by Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat.
Democrats Opposed yet Got Credit for 1964 Civil Rights Act
By 1964, a new Civil Rights bill was debated in the Senate. Senators Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Al Gore, Sr., both Democrats, led a filibuster that nearly derailed the bill’s chance of passage, until Republican Minority Leader, Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois, broke the filibuster.
In the House of Representatives 40% of the Democrats voted against the bill, while only 20% of the Republicans opposed it; in the Senate 21 Democrats voted against it, while only 6 Republicans voted no.
Beginning with its formation, the Republican Party has been the leader in leveling the playing field for African Americans, women, and minorities.
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African American Politics
Sean Turner’s Democratic Party's past, present, and future unkind to blacks