Contract with Black America
It was a Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, who sent military forces to enforce the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The law didn’t integrate the Little Rock schools, the army did. And this power of big government to enforce civil rights was a defining experience in Black America. In 1957 President Eisenhower submitted and had passed the first civil rights act since Reconstruction. But he was unable to get the Senate, under Democratic majority leader Lyndon Johnson, to provide a strong enough enforcement regime. The cost of Democratic acquiescence was to have any dispute brought to trial. In the South, that meant trial by jury with the jury pool drawn from the voter rolls. Since the Democratic politicians fought to disenfranchise black voters through poll taxes etc. it meant blacks were certain to face all white juries and have their pleas for justice denied. That link to justice was denied until passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
The election of John Kennedy combined with the increasing protest of black civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King meant that in combination with the Republican minority in Congress there was ultimately a bi-partisan majority desiring passage of the 1963 Civil Rights Act and the 1964 Voting Rights Act. Lyndon Johnson read the tea leaves and got in front of the parade. So a man who had been an obstructionist in 1957 now became a hero to the black population.. Never mind that the acts were largely due to the efforts of the commission formed under Eisenhower’s guidance, or that the more eloquent supporters were Republicans like Everett Dirksen, or that the Republicans had proportionally higher support in Congress for the acts. The leader of the parade got the credit.
Since that time, blacks have had great faith in the federal government. But the basic Republican tenet of smaller government leaves them nervous. Of course, Republicanism does not mean elimination of the federal government. It means limiting its power to strictly defined tasks as defined in the Constitution. At this point its worthwhile to quote its preamble, “…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure the domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and to our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” These wholesale political rights are at the core of the Republican party. And they are entirely consistent with the desire to full civil rights.
The challenge is to get blacks to reconsider their views. Are they better off trying to curry favor with the local ward healer or will they benefit in the longer run by supporting big picture issues? Will improving the public schools with voucher programs do more good than throwing money at teacher’s unions? Did Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America also apply to Black America? The very day that a Republican majority was elected to Congress was the day interest rates started their decline. Does the availability of a low interest mortgage making first home ownership possible benefit blacks? The answer is obvious. Full rights for all citizens benefit all citizens. Blacks don’t need affirmative action if they can succeed on their own merits.
Back when Machias was formed by sixteen partners in a sawmill in 1763 there was a wilderness. Those men plus two tradesmen (one a blacksmith, my fourth great grandfather) spent the first year building their homes and the mill. At first, they needed credit to do the job and survive. Here's the report on their second year. "During the year 1764 the inhabitants made nearly one million six hundred thousand feet of lumber" (Source: Narrative of the Town of Machias, George w. Drisko, page 14). That’s nearly 20 miles per man. They worked very hard (the Protestant work ethic in action). What allowed them to succeed were hard work, property rights and literacy (they needed to read the Bible). It would be nice if the Republican party made a contract with black Americans to see those blessings are secured for them and their posterity. School vouchers and home ownership are an excellent start.