The Dillard Doctrine

Urban Conservative Commentary on Politics & Life

Owning Our History (So We Don’t Repeat It)

“Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

That quote’s attributed to so many different people that I can’t nail down the exact source of it. That said, it’s time for many of us in the Republican Party to have a history lesson. Why?

Last month, RNC chair Michael Steele said the following when asked why blacks should vote Republican:

“You really don’t have a reason to, to be honest — we haven’t done a very good job of really giving you one. True? True.”

“We have lost sight of the historic, integral link between the party and African-Americans,” Steele said. “This party was co-founded by blacks, among them Frederick Douglass. The Republican Party had a hand in forming the NAACP, and yet we have mistreated that relationship. People don’t walk away from parties, Their parties walk away from them.

That didn’t make Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson very happy:

“Michael Steele is a RINO (Republican In Name Only) — he’s dividing the party and hurting recruitment efforts,” said Rev. Peterson. “Since January I have called for the GOP to fire Steele because he cannot be trusted to lead the party to victory. I’m hoping that party leaders will finally get over their fear of being called racists and dump him before it’s too late.”

Peterson then went on to pose several questions for Steele.

Is Steele right? Of course he is…and though I would’ve said that this time last year, there were several things that happened on McDonnell’s campaign that proved it.  And he’s right for reasons that some black conservatives (many in my demographic, but some older as well) know all too well: we don’t carry our message to the black community, and when we try, it doesn’t relate to the issues and realities they face daily.

So what has the modern-day (which we’ll call post-1964, since that’s about when the shift took place) GOP done to alienate black voters? Let’s see.

I’ve looked at the history of the GOP and blacks before, when I wrote about whether MLK would be-or ever was-a Republican. Prior to the early 1960’s, the Republican Party-mostly centered in the northern states-was seen as more favorable to civil rights than the mostly southern Democratic party. And after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the GOP gained new converts-voters in the southern states, who began to leave the Democratic Party in response to their inclusion of civil rights into their party’s platform (in 1948, southern delegates to the DNC’s convention walked out in protest over the platform). Seeing the GOP as the party more supportive of state’s rights, by 1964, many of these voters began identifying-and voting-as Republicans. Sen. Barry Goldwater-who made his opposition (and vote against; one of six Senate Republicans to do so) the Civil Rights Act a centerpiece of his presidential campaign that year-would carry the votes of the once-“Solid South,” while losing everywhere else. And while more Republicans would vote for the landmark legislation than Democrats, the GOP would embrace these more divisive voters with open arms.

The “Southern strategy”-a concerted effort to appeal to the GOP’s newest converts in the southern states-played to these voters by making issues such as public school busing and state’s rights integral to their campaigns in the south. Opposition to these platforms cast Republicans in a negative light within black communities, and-coupled with the Democratic Party’s use of civil rights to attract more black voters-marked the final actions in the black vote’s shift from Republican to Democrat (which began with FDR’s passage and implementation of the New Deal). With this shift, Republican campaign strategy shifted to holding the (then) few black votes they could get, while targeting their campaign efforts more toward voters that were more sympathetic.

To an extent, this strategy has been denounced by more recent Republican leaders. In 2005, then-RNC chair Ken Mehlman said this about the Southern strategy in a speech to the NAACP:

“By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out,” Mehlman says in his prepared text. “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”


This is our history; this is why Steele’s correct in his assessment of our efforts to reach the black community. These are things that we as Republicans-and more specifically, black Republicans-have to contend with every time we take the message of conservatism to black voters. It’s why they don’t trust us as a party, and why they question those of us who, as African Americans, make the decision to align with the GOP on principles, not on history. These things happened…and, perhaps quietly, still do in smaller circles (see “Barack the Magic Negro).

We’ve got to learn to live with what we’ve done as a party. I’ve never been one to run from the history of the GOP as I’ve learned more about it; that includes the good as well as the bad. For any Republican to contend that our failure to resonate within the black community solely stems from blacks only being in favor of “big government’ shows, at best, a lack of knowledge of our history…and at worst, continues the same disrespect that’s still a raw wound on black voters (and that myself and too many others are working too hard to definitively heal).

Our first step with reconnecting with African Americans begins with us. We’ve got to know where we’ve done just as well as we know how we began. We don’t have to be proud of it, and we shouldn’t be-but running from it cannot be an option…now or in the future.

HB2DF, Coby


3 Responses

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  1. Excellent post, Coby. I couldn’t agree more, but it isn’t just with the black community, they have also walked away from being the “States Rights” party and adopted the “big government concept that the Democrats embrace. I applaud Steele for forcing us to examine our history in hopes of learning from it. Perhaps there is hope yet.


    May 3, 2010 at 10:33 am

  2. I like the new look. More importantly, I can really, really appreciate your level of forthrightness in this piece. Unfortunately, almost every faction of both major parties are so locked into perpetuating their own narratives, a desire which is often at odds with anything other than the half truths necessary to give these narratives the kind of continuity most of the general public craves..

    Brown Man

    May 10, 2010 at 1:09 am

  3. […] more logical and intellecually honest for me to cede this argument to Coby Dillard, and his very astute, thought provoking take on the matter.  Mr. Dillard’s theory on the GOP and blacks put quite simply: (sic).. we […]

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