The Republican Party was formed as an anti-slavery party and has been the leader in civil rights since its inception. Under Lincoln, a Civil War was fought and won, slavery was ended, and the Republic saved. For a brief time, during Reconstruction (1865-1877), civil rights for freed slaves were enforced. A newly formed group, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), considered the military arm of the Democratic Party, was countered by President Grant’s troops. During Reconstruction, with Republican control of the White House and Congress, a series of significant civil rights legislation were passed. The 13th Amendment ended slavery, the Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted rights to all citizens, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to children of freed slaves, the 15th Amendment gave freed slaves voting rights, the First KKK Act of 1870, established voter rights and allowed use of Federal Marshals to enforce the law, the Second KKK Act of 1871, put all elections under Federal control, the Third KKK Act also of 1871, enforced the 14th Amendment, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875 barred discrimination in public accommodations. Reconstruction ended in 1875 when Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives and funds were cut to support the troops. No one should be proud of the next 82 years of our history.
In 1896, the U. S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, allowed a system of apartheid under “separate but equal”. Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, upon taking office in 1913 oversaw the formal segregation of the federal workforce. In 1953. When Republican Ike Eisenhower started his first term, no civil rights legislation had been passed in 78 years. That soon was to change. In strategic moves, Eisenhower appointed Herbert Brownell as Attorney General and filled the first open position on the Supreme Court with Earl Warren. In Brown v. Board of Education, Brownell filed a brief in support of Brown v. Board of Education. The next day’s headlines read, “GOP Backs NAACP”. On May 17, 1954, the Brown v. Board of Education unanimous decision led by new Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, overturned Plessy v, Ferguson after 58 years of segregation.
The Civil Rights Act of 1957, fiercely opposed by southern segregationists, was passed. Under the new laws, Eisenhower used the National Guard and Federal Marshals to enforce integration and voting rights in the South. At that time, Democrats became interested in the newly franchised voters. Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, signed a series of bipartisan bills to launch “The Great Society”. A new era of legislation, not of civil rights, but of social welfare, began and through the next 50 years brought us to where we are today. I will end with a poignant quote from a black man who lived through it. Walter E. Williams Ph. D, a Professor of Economics at George Mason University stated, “The undeniable truth is that neither slavery nor Jim Crow nor the harshest racism has decimated the black family the way the welfare state has.”
Joe Grant, Wiscasset