History truly does repeat itself. Sometimes in frighteningly similar ways.
We all know how the Republican Party started out as the Party of Lincoln, the Great Emancipator who took a political ‘states-rights’ issue and raised the ante to set America on the moral high ground with a bloody civil war that ended legalized slavery of African-Americans. Blacks were forever indebted to Mr. Lincoln and his Republican Party for its commitment to their freedom.
But, that all changed with another Republican, Herbert Hoover. In the 1920s, Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce under Republican Calvin Coolidge. Hoover was to Coolidge as “Brownie” was to George W. Bush. And just like the Bush Administration, Coolidge’s Admin had to handle a natural catastrophe similar in scope to Katrina. Fortunately, Hoover was a smarter administrator than Brownie and managed the relief work admirably. Unfortunately he was a lying, manipulative, power-hungry Republican that would have made Dick Cheney proud.
Here’s the story:
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 broke the banks and levees of the lower Mississippi River in early 1927, resulting in flooding of millions of acres and leaving one and a half million people displaced from their homes. Although such a disaster did not fall under the duties of the Commerce Department, the governors of six states along the Mississippi specifically asked for Herbert Hoover in the emergency. President Calvin Coolidge sent Hoover to mobilize state and local authorities, militia, army engineers, the Coast Guard, and the American Red Cross.
With a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Hoover set up health units to work in the flooded regions for a year. These workers stamped out malaria, pellagra, and typhoid fever from many areas. His work during the flood brought Herbert Hoover to the front page of newspapers almost everywhere, and he gained new accolades as a humanitarian. The great victory of his relief work, he stressed, was not that the government rushed in and provided all assistance; it was that much of the assistance available was provided by private citizens and organizations in response to his appeals. “I suppose I could have called in the Army to help,” he said, “but why should I, when I only had to call upon Main Street.”
The horrible treatment of African Americans during the disaster, however, endangered Hoover’s reputation as a humanitarian. Local officials brutalized blacks and prevented them from leaving relief camps, aid meant for African-American sharecroppers was often given to the landowners instead, and many times black males were conscripted by locals into forced labor, sometimes at gun point. Knowing the potential ramifications on his presidential aspirations if such knowledge became public, Hoover struck a deal with Robert Moton, the prominent African-American successor to Booker T. Washington as president of the Tuskegee Institute. In exchange for keeping the suffering of African Americans out of the public eye, Hoover promised unprecedented influence for African Americans if he was elected president. Moton agreed, and consistent with the accommodationist philosophy of Washington, worked actively to suppress information about mistreatment of blacks from being revealed to the media. Following election, Hoover broke his promises. This led to an African-American backlash in the 1932 election that shifted allegiance from the Republican party to the Democrats. That was the year, of course, that American first elected Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Original Southern strategy;
To gain Republican votes in Southern states, Hoover pioneered an electoral tactic later known as the “Southern Strategy”. Hoover ousted many African American leaders in the Republican party, and replaced them with whites. Hoover’s appeal to white voters yielded substantial results, including Republican victories in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. It marked the first time a Republican candidate for president carried Texas.
This outraged the black leadership, which largely broke from the Republican Party, and began seeking candidates who supported civil rights within the Democratic Party.
This “Southern Strategy” would be used again by Republicans in the 1950s & 1960s to drive a racial wedge between black and white Democrats during the struggle for civil rights and desegregation. Republicans never unite….they ALWAYS divide to conquer.