In March of 1964, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. descended on the U.S. Capitol to hear Senate debates on a civil rights bill proposed by President John F. Kennedy the previous year. It is widely believed this was the only time the two iconic leaders ever met. Four years and one month later, both were dead — neither living to see his 40th birthday.
Kennedy was killed mere months after calling for this legislation that would theoretically ensure all citizens would have “the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public — hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores and similar establishments.” It was left to his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to ultimately usher the bill through Congress — signing it into law on July 2, 1964.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was neither the first nor the last of its kind. Previous acts had passed in 1866,1871,1875,1957 and 1960. Subsequent ones were enacted in 1968, 1987 and 1991. As with all progressive legislation, there was pushback against them all. The Republican Party has almost exclusively led political opposition to the 1964 Act as well as its companion: the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They have done so consistently and usually unapologetically.
In the midst of this reality, Kentucky Senator and Tea Party champion Rand Paul recently spoke at a gathering commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Act in Kentucky. Paul is also slated to speak at a National Urban League Conference in Cincinnati later this month. Anyone else thinking Los Angeles NAACP and Donald Sterling?
Paul has made a point of attempting to appeal to black communities across the country since 2012. He recently told the Shelbyville Rotary Club, “If we (Republicans) are going to be the white party, we’re going to be the losing party.” He later firmly opined to reporters, “I think you’ll find nobody in Congress doing more for minority rights than me right now — Republican or Democrat.” Confident.
Paul is an interesting study in contradictions. He visits black churches and schools — including Howard University — and waxes poetic about how he is a minority rights advocate. He then turns and hires a guy like the clearly racist “Southern Avenger” Jack Hunter as his media director. (See “Jack Hunter is the man” in the Sept. 24, 2013, issue of LEO for details.)
Paul says he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964 but seems to have had a few issues with it in 2010. He opposes mandatory minimums for drug offenses that disproportionately impact blacks and pushes for the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons, but still affiliates himself with the notoriously nativist, race-baiting Tea Party wing of the GOP. There are more than enough reasons to question whether Paul’s outreach is sincere or if he is just playing politics for a small slice of the African-American vote in a 2016 presidential run.
Unfortunately for Paul, he has a more troubling foundational problem. Even if there were no questions about his veracity, Paul would still have trouble in black America. He and others are right when they say the Democratic Party takes the black vote for granted. The problem is the Republicans do not provide a viable alternative. As a friend of mine said years ago, “The Democrats will kill us, but at least they’ll wait until next month or maybe next year. The Republicans will do it tonight!”
Those who urge us to remember the GOP is the “Party of Lincoln” that “freed the slaves” are not inaccurate, but they are incomplete. From the Compromise of 1877 to the advent of Democrats like William Jennings Bryan to the fracturing of the Republicans by Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 to the New Deal to Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond and friends joining the GOP after the election of 1948 to the Tea Party — the Republican Party of today is nothing like Lincoln’s.
The only black votes for Paul (and most other Republicans) will likely come from folks like Ben Carson, Ward Connerly, Stacey Dash and their ilk as long as he is a part of that tainted party brand. So, everyone should learn about and remember the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You should also study how the GOP has devolved over the last century and a half. God help Rand Paul and other Republicans once people know the real story.
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Visit Ricky L. Jones at rickyljones.com. Find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones.