At our heart, we Republicans are an abolitionist party, proudly founded in 1854 by anti-slavery Whigs. Under Abraham Lincoln’s leadership, our party ended that slavery.
Republicans and Union generals developed plans to distribute land to freed slaves and to maintain troops in the conquered Confederacy to ensure the civil and voting rights of Black citizens. Sadly, with Lincoln’s assassination, a Southern Democrat entered the Oval Office and scuttled the planned redistribution of slave plantation lands. In 1877, Democrats in Congress blackmailed their way to the removal of federal troops from the South (by refusing to let a winner be named in the disputed 1876 election until they obtained troop removal) and setting the stage for Jim Crow era disenfranchisement and civil rights violations.
The public may not remember that history, but African-American voters did for generations, voting solidly Republican until the Depression.
Even into the 1950’s and 60’s civil rights movement, Republicans were the most dependable supporters of voting and civil rights for Black Americans. Republicans in both the House and Senate voted in greater percentages for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 than did Democrats. It was racist Southern Democrats that led the opposition to Black equality, and in fact, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower would have already gained Blacks those rights protections with his civil rights bill in 1957 if it hadn’t been watered-down by filibustering Southern Democrats.
We haven’t changed our pro-equality beliefs, but at times I do feel that we as a party have lost the anger we had in the 1800s when we see discrimination and the urgency we once felt to right wrongs. Racism once made us angry enough to fight a civil war when it became unavoidable, and one of my ancestors even joined General Sherman in his March to the Sea.
We need that abolitionist urgency still. We need to be outspoken in our condemnation of remaining racism and discrimination. I think some Republicans who reject the modern Democratic Left’s take on race identity (that laws, agencies or America as a whole are intentionally racist) tend to pull back from the subject. I do think the Left’s claims that racism is institutional and systemic in America are baseless and an attempt to find an easy answer. I believe that the real problem with racism and discrimination is a far bigger and harder to solve problem… the roots are at the level of individuals and families. If racism was institutional or systemic, the solution would be easy…we could just pass laws or change regulations in those institutions, systems, and agencies to end racism. Fighting racism at the individual and family level is much harder.
As Republicans, we should always be ready to join in bipartisan efforts to fight institutional racism if it can ever be identified, but every federal, state and local agency I know of have strict anti-racism policies and active anti-discrimination and multi-cultural training programs. Dealing with individual racism doesn't lend itself to an easy fix. It takes time to build relationships and trust in order to change a person's way of thinking. I don't know of a magic path getting through to every racist individual, but any path would begin with good people speaking out.
All Republicans need to speak out against any shred of racism we see in our own party. We need to be vocal that there is absolutely no place in our rallies or campaign venues for Confederate flags or any other white-supremist symbols. I understand that many in the South say Confederate imagery is more about Southern pride or States’ rights anti-governmentalism. However, history doesn’t support the States’ rights motive for the Confederacy, as many seceding states explicitly mentioned slavery in their Articles of Secession. And as far as Southern pride, I would suggest SEC football imagery as a better representation of the region’s culture and success (Congrats, Georgia Bulldogs!).