Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? See Jesse Helms.

{This is part of the series, “Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats?” Other parts of the series are:
Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? Inclusion and Diversity.
Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? MLK, JFK, and LBJ.}

Black Republicans often bemoan the fact that African Americans vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party. One charge made by black Republicans is that Democrats are somehow bamboozling blacks into voting for them. Thomas Sowell’s comments in an issue of Black Republican magazine are typical:

How then can the Democrats consistently get the lion’s share of black votes? And why can’t the Republicans make any serious inroads? Democrats understand that the key to their success is in keeping blacks dependent and fearful. They cry “racism” at every opportunity and resurrect every grievance of the past.

{See also “The Myth That Blacks Only Vote Black” and “Where are the Black Republicans?”}

But if black Republicans really want to understand why African Americans are rejecting their party, they need look no further than Jesse Helms, the former US Senator from North Carolina who died on Friday at the age of 86.

Jesse Helms, former NC Senator
Jesse Helms, Conservative Icon
and Race Baiter Deluxe

Within the Republican Party Helms is viewed as an icon whose conservative positions on and against communism, gay rights, and the liberal media helped key the rebirth of the Republican Party in the South and the success of the Reagan Revolution.

But for others, Helms was the embodiment of the so-called Southern Strategy, the “Republican method of carrying Southern states in the latter decades of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century by exploiting racism among white voters.”

As David Broder, a widely respected political columnist for The Washington Post put it , Helms was “the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country.”

“What is unique about Helms – and from my viewpoint, unforgivable – is his willingness to pick at the scab of the great wound of American history, the legacy of slavery and segregation, and to inflame racial resentment against African Americans,” Broder wrote shortly after Helms announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2002.

Helms’ history of racial divisiveness is well documented, even though he often claimed that he was neither a racist nor a segregationist. Helms started out as a radio commentator, using a style that was a precursor to the conservative talk radio we see from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. As mentioned in an article at WRAL.com, “In one noted editorial, he suggested building a wall around the UNC (University of North Carolina) campus, which he called the “University of Negroes and Communists,” so that its liberal sentiments could be contained.”

As an aide to the 1950 North Carolina Senate campaign of Willis Smith, Helms is alleged to have created a circular which superimposed a photograph of the opposing candidate’s wife on a picture of a white woman dancing with a black soldier during World War II. That was a very negative image in the Jim Crow south.

As a US Senator, he opposed a national holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and led a filibuster against the extension of the Voting Rights Act.

Helms’ race baiting during political campaigns borders on being legendary. As described by the Washington Post:

Helms also had a reputation for going for the jugular in a political fight. “He ran negative ads against me for 20 months,” said former North Carolina governor James B. Hunt Jr., a Democrat who lost to Helms in North Carolina’s 1984 Senate election, in a 1990 interview with The Post. “During that time he was able to tear me down and get people to begin to see the race in his terms, Jesse Helms’s race.”

That strategy included efforts to link Hunt with liberal causes by showing pictures of him with Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale. It also emphasized Helms’s 16-day filibuster against a federal holiday for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

In his two final races, in 1990 and 1996, Helms defeated former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt in bitterly contested campaigns that attracted national attention. Helms designed his campaigns against the African American Gantt to be about “North Carolina values” vs. “extreme liberal values,” and Helms made it clear where he stood.

Helms campaigned against what he described as liberal efforts to give unfair preference in hiring and education to racial minorities. One of his TV ads showed the hand of a white man crumpling a rejection letter as an announcer intoned: “You needed that job. And you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority.”

The Justice Department admonished his 1996 campaign for civil rights violations after it mailed 125,000 fliers to heavily African American precincts warning that voters risked imprisonment if they cast ballots.

With guys like Helms, the Democratic Party doesn’t need to “scream racism,” as Thomas Sowell put it. The sight and mention of men like Helms screams loud enough.

Jesse Helms actually had a role in the growth of my own support for the Democratic Party. When Harvey Gantt ran against him in 1990 and 1996, I did something that neither I nor anyone I personally knew had done: I contributed money to a political campaign. Although Gantt lost both races, I felt pride from knowing that instead of just watching, I contributed. And to this day, I continue to contribute.

Now, here’s what bothers me: when I do a search on the Internet, I see a lot of white Republicans praising Helms, but I don’t see black or white Republicans repudiating his negative words and actions regarding African Americans.

I don’t know if (any) black Republicans actually consider Helms a hero, or if they’re taking a vow of silence to avoid making waves. But one thing is certain: black Republicans need to think twice, and probably more than that, if they believe that African Americans will join a Republican Party that features Jesse Helms as a shining star.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? See Jesse Helms.

  1. Question:

    What happens when, due to Jesse Helms –

    * You have 100% Democrats running your school boards yet still are not happy with the results of your children’s education?

    * You have the vast majority of cities where Black people are present in large quantities run by Democrats and yet the streets are not safe enough for you to build a community by socializing in safety on your streets?

    * When you have city councils that are 95% Democrat and in their role of dispensing business licenses – they don’t have the set of policies that attract businesses that can employ your people at favorable rates?

    With your strategy do you ever reach the point where you see that YOUR GOALS are not being met and thus you begin to question IF your methodology is sound.

    Please be clear brother – I am not asking you to “Vote Republican”. I am asking “What are you GETTING OUT OF WHAT YOU ARE DOING? Particularly when you are all by yourself and the ‘Jesse Helms types’ have departed from your midst?

    This should be the focus of your energies not worrying about a dead threat.

    Democrats are thankful for Black people like you as they benefit greatly.

  2. One example of a Republican, Jesse Helms, was mentioned in debate as to why Afro-Americans vote Democratic. I believe that if this representation is accurate, there is much education that must be allowed to bring light to the apparent historical indifference to Democratic suppression of blacks in the South.

    A brief history lesson is necessary: The Republican Party, also known as the Jeffersonian Republicans or Democratic-Republicans, advocated a decentralized government with limited powers. Another faction to emerge in the early years of the republic, the Federalist Party, led by Alexander Hamilton, favored a strong central government (Democrats). Jefferson’s faction (Republicans) developed from the group of Anti-Federalists in favor of the addition of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States. John Adams a Federalist (Democrat) was elected in 1796, which then led to the eventual fading away of the Federalist Party due to subsequent victories by Republicans. In 1800 Adams was defeated by Jefferson, whose victory ushered in a period of prolonged Republican dominance. Jefferson won reelection easily in 1804, and Republicans James Madison (1808 and 1812) and James Monroe (1816 and 1820) were also subsequently elected. By 1820 the Federalist Party (Democratic Party) had faded from national politics, leaving the Democratic-Republicans as the country’s sole major party and allowing Monroe to run unopposed in that year’s presidential election. Thus, the Republican Party had made the greatest contributions to the early foundation and formation of this Great nation’s values, morals, ideaologies, acquisition of territories, security (during early periods of foreign susceptibility) and governmental principles.

    From 1828 to 1856 the Democrats won all but two presidential elections (1840 and 1848). During the 1840s and ’50s, however, the Democratic Party, as it officially named itself in 1844, suffered serious internal strains over the issue of extending slavery to the Western territories. Southern Democrats, led by Jefferson Davis, wanted to allow slavery in all the territories while Northern Democrats, led by Stephen A. Douglas, proposed that each territory should decide the question for itself through referendum. Abraham Lincoln, the candidate of the newly established (1854) antislavery (Republican Party) was elected president with only about 40 percent of the national vote given the fact that the Pro-Slavery Democratic Party was split as to how the states should govern slavery. The 1824 election as a critical election. It established the Democratic and Republican parties as the major parties in what was ostensibly a two-party system. In federal elections from the 1870s to the 1890s, the parties were in rough balance—except in the South, where the white Democrats dominated because most whites in the South blamed the Republican Party for both the American Civil War (1861–65) and the Reconstruction (1865–77) that followed; the two parties controlled Congress for almost equal periods through the rest of the 19th century.

    This is the most important period in Southern Democratic dominance of coercive influence over Afro-Americans to become Democrats, thus perpetuating their fate to be controlled to this day. After the Civil War and during the time of reconstruction, Democratic Southern states affiliated white paramilitary groups to conduct intimidation, terrorism and violence against black voters and their allies to reduce black voting. State Democratic legislators under this policy, gradually worked to strip blacks of their ability to vote. In the late 1800’s the KKK was formed by Confederate war veterans. White superiority was the philosophy of the Klan in the South, and they would often use violence and terrorization of blacks as a means of exercising this philosophized superiority. The Klan detested the idea of blacks gaining any rights following the Civil War into the Reconstruction, and terrorized blacks to prevent them from voting in elections or practicing any other right. Blacks and white sympathizers were often threatened, beaten, or even murdered by Klan members in the South. It should be noted that white Southern Democrats unhappy with the result of the Civil War created an envirnonment for the KKK to grow and flurish. Of a more current note, David Duke (Democrat) was even a Grand Wizard of the KKK in 1967 and remained a Democrat until he lost election in 1989.

    Jim Crow laws were created to legally enforce racial segregation. The most extreme white leader was Senator Ben Tillman (Democrat) of South Carolina, who proudly proclaimed in 1900, “We have done our level best [to prevent blacks from voting]…we have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.” (Logan, p. 91)

    With no voting rights and no voice in government, Blacks in the South were subjected to a system of segregation and discrimination. Blacks and whites attended separate schools. Blacks could not serve on juries, which meant that they had little if any legal recourse. In Black Boy, an autobiographical account of life during this time, Richard Wright writes about being struck with a bottle and knocked from a moving truck for failing to call a white man “sir” (Wright, Chapter Nine). Between 1889 and 1922, the NAACP calculates that lynchings reached their worst level in history, with almost 3,500 people, three-fourths of them black men, murdered.[2]

    In response to this treatment, the South witnessed two major events in the lives of 20th century African Americans: the Great Migration to the industrial Republican North and the American Civil Rights Movement.

    The Great Migration began during World War I, hitting its high point during World War II. During this migration, Black people left the racism and lack of opportunities in the Democratic South and settled in northern cities like Chicago, where they found work in factories and other sectors of the economy. (Katzman, 1996) This migration produced a new sense of independence in the Black community and contributed to the vibrant Black urban culture seen during the Harlem Renaissance.

    If Afro-Americans were afforded the opportunity to learn enough of past historical events, why in good conscious would the majority of the Afro-American populus remain loyal to their historical Democratic master, who to this day promulgates only economic welfare dependence, to keep them enslaved still.

  3. {If Afro-Americans were afforded the opportunity to learn enough of past historical events, why in good conscious would the majority of the Afro-American populus remain loyal to their historical Democratic master, who to this day promulgates only economic welfare dependence, to keep them enslaved still.}

    You left out an important fact, the key fact. After the voting rights laws were passed, and blacks were able to vote in the South, they registered as Democrats. This made it impossible for Dixiecrats to run in the Democratic Party.

    Unable to run as Democrats, these racists/segregationists/race baiters (such as Helms, Strom Thurmond, Trent Lott) bolted to the GOP. That’s right: all of the old-school Democrats that you you consider a blight on history are all Republicans now. And that helps explain why an African American with a complete knowledge of history would find it hard or almost impossible to vote Republican today.

    (Besides the fact that Bush and the Republican led Congress have pretty much ruined the country, what with Iraq, the housing crisis, the failure to implement energy independence measures, the Attorney General scandals, etc, etc.)

  4. Lunchcountersitin has finally stated a reason that makes sense to me for why African Americans overwhelmingly support the Democratic party. Thank you. I do have to agree with Alan though that it seems to me that the Decocratic party does indeed promulgate racism and economic welfare dependence.

  5. Let’s just say that Lunchcountersitin is right but that still does not explain why African-Americans registered Democrat after the voting rights act was passed. Was it out of gratitude to President Johnson or was it to give the racist Democrats a lesson? Either way, I would not hypothetically join a Nazi Party after World War 2 if I were a Jew just because the Nazi Party would say that Hitler is dead and we have reformed the party and all Jews are welcome. Would you?

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