Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Barack Obama's Nomination: The Democratic Party Comes Full Circle

From the time of its formation until the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Party was the political opponent of the African-American community. Its leaders championed slavery in the 1800s and helped start the Civil War over the issue. Its leaders, after the end of Reconstruction in 1876, dominated the states of the Old Confederacy and passed infamous Jim Crow laws. Laws that promoted segregation and deprived African-Americans of their political and civil rights.

Things started to change with the nomination of FDR. African-Americans in the north began voting for a Democrat for president for the first time in their political history. This trend continued at the 1948 Democratic convention with the adoption of a civil rights plank in the Democratic platform and the walk-out of several Southern delegates led by Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Even in 1960, however, African-Americans were skeptical of the Democratic nominee for president. While Kennedy did get around 60% of the African-American vote, it took Lyndon B. Johnson and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to convince African-Americans they could trust the Democratic Party.

During that process, the Democratic Party lost its hold on the states of the Old Confederacy. It saw the Republicans repudiate their own past and go from being the Party of Lincoln to the Party of Ol' Strom Thurmond. In so doing, the Republicans won 7 out of the last 10 presidential elections. The GOP won these elections by combining the 11 states of the Old Confederacy with the farm belt states and enough border and industrial midwest states to win the electoral college.

It was fitting that a Democratic President be the one to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed, given the fact that for most of the preceding 100 years, Democrats had been the party of white racists. It is also fitting, however, that the first African-American candidate for president nominated by a major political party be a Democrat. This is because, since 1968, the Democratic Party has done the most to advance the political power of African-Americans.

In about 100 years, the Democratic Party has gone from being the party of white racists to the party that embodies the hopes and aspirations of African-Americans. Now we will see whether it can get Barack Obama elected president.

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