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African-Americans and the New Deal Coalition 2.1

African-Americans and the New Deal Coalition 2.1

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Published by Samuel Gompers

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Published by: Samuel Gompers on Dec 22, 2011
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08/18/2012

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1ILRLR 3860Professor Salvatore18 November, 2011
 African-Americans and the New Deal Coalition
 The identification of the Republican Party as the Party of Abraham Lincoln
 — 
and, by extension, of the Emancipation Proclamation
 —persisted for decades after Lincoln‘s death. Over the
course of only two decades, however, this perception was shattered. Throughout the
1920‘s, the
Republican Party began to take the black vote increasingly for granted. This callous disregard fordecades of support allowed many African
 – 
 Americans to consider breaking with the Republicans andduring the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and later Harry Truman, they did just that. After1936, blacks voted for the Democratic Party in record numbers. While the transition was notinstantaneous, it was the inevitable result of two major features of the Roosevelt and Trumanadministrations as well as Republican neglect. First, the New Deal, though imperfect, providedeconomic opportunities and services desperately needed during the depths of the Depression. Moreimportantly, however, was the willingness of both presidents to break with Southern Democrats tocooperate with African
 – 
 American leaders and take concrete action on specific civil rights issues.Despite the legacy of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, as well as the
Emancipation Proclamation, by the 1920‘s
, many in the Republican Party paid only fleeting attentionto the concerns of African
 – 
 Americans. The Harding and Coolidge administrations both dedicated
significant effort towards cultivating a ―lily–white‖ Southern Republican Party 
in order to crack the
Democrat‘s ―Solid South
.
1
To avoid alienating potential Southern voters, Harding, and laterCoolidge, avoided taking any significant civil rights action. For example, while both men publicly abhorred the practice of lynching, neither seriously pushed for a federal anti
 – 
lynching law 
 — 
evenafter 1922 when the Dyer bill passed the house.
2
 
 
2Given the Harding 
 – 
Coolidge record, it is hardly surprising that some African
 – 
 Americans were beginning to distrust the Republican Party. Northern Democrats, like New York Governor AlSmith, sensed an opportunity to break part of the Republican coalition. After being nominated forthe presidency in 1928, Smith contacted Walter White, then assistant executive secretary of theNAACP, about managing a campaign among blacks.
3
White saw the arrangement as an opportunity 
to ―[wrest] domination of the Democratic Party from the southern bourbons and [vest] it in thehands of the North and East.‖
4
 
Smith‘s running mate
, however, Sen. Joseph T. Robinson of  Arkansas, convinced Smith to drop the idea.
5
 N
evertheless, Smith‘s campaign attracted significant support among urban blac
ks comparedto previous years. In Chicago, for example, not only did the
Defender 
endorse Smith, but theDemocratic ticket received 27 percent of the vote in black precincts
 — 
compared to 11 percent in1920 and 10 percent in 1924.
6
In Harlem, 28 percent of blacks voted for Smith; 28 percent also voted Democratic in 1924, but only 3 percent had in 1920.
7
Ultimately, Smith was reluctant toseriously risk the support of white voters to court African
 – 
 Americans. Since neither Smith nor hisopponent, Herbert Hoover, were willing to speak substantially about civil rights or other key issues,black voting patterns remained essentially unchanged.
8
 Unfortunately for African
 – 
 Americans, Hoover proved to be no better than his predecessors.Not only did he continue to build a lily 
 – 
 white Southern Republican Party, he relied on those whiteSoutherners to shape his response to racial issues, introducing new offenses as well. In 1930,Congress appropriated money for women who had lost sons and husbands in World War I to travelto Europe to visit the graves; t
he War Department ordered these ―Gold Star Mothers‖ to be
segregated on the voyage overseas.
9
The NAACP bitterly protested this decision, but Hooverdeclined to intervene. Many black women chose not to go rather than endure the insult.
10
 
 
3Hoover
‘s record on appointments was also dismal, specifically his nomination of 
John J.Parker to the Supreme Court.
Parker‘s views on race were questionable at best. While running forgovernor of North Carolina in 1920, Parker was quoted as saying, ―The Negro as a class does not
desire to enter politics. The Republican party of North Carolina does not desire him to do so. Werecognize that he has not yet reached the stage in his development when he can share the burdens
and responsibilities of government.‖
11
In response to these comments, the NAACP launched a vigorous lobbying effort
to block Parker‘s
confirmation
12
Moreo
 ver, after Parker‘s confirmation was
defeated, the Association organized a campaign against four pro
 – 
Parker senators in the elections of 1930 which helped two to lose their seats.
13
These political campaigns galvanized African
 – 
 American voters in the lead up to the 1932 presidential elections.Many African
 – 
 Americans, however, still distrusted the Democratic Party. In 1932, theDemocrats nominated another New York governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt. In contrast to theCatholic, immigrant background of Al Smith, Roosevelt was an American patrician with littlepersonal experience in the problems of race relations.
14
Moreover,
Roosevelt‘s running mate,
Speaker of the House John Nance Garner of Texas, inspired little confidence of a renewedDemocratic attitude towards African
 – 
 Americans; the Democratic equal rights plank did not evenmention race.
15
Nevertheless, Roosevelt displayed a remarkably progressive attitude towards racialissues and his comments foreshadowed his later action. In Detroit, for example, Roosevelt stated
that, ―I believe in equal economic and legal opportunity for all groups, rega
rdless of race, color or
creed.‖
16
 Meanwhile, Hoover continued to mismanage the issue of race. The Republican equal rightsplatform was no more than a vague appeal to history and, according to the Chicago
Defender 
, ―a worthless political sop to members of our Race.‖
17
Additionally, his lackluster response to theDepression was compared to his maladministration of the 1927 Mississippi flood relief as Secretary 

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