Part One: A Question of Perception.
The words were wholly ironic:
We must pursue a strategy that prohibits one party from taking us for granted and another party from writing us
Jesse Jackson, when addressing the Republican National Committee in 1978, said this about the black vote in America, but has
consistently proven himself to be the main violator of their spirit in the modern era. To him they were mere words. To others,
though, the singular truth they express still stands -- and has even begun to take shape.
1996 marks the end of the beginning of the rise of a conservative movement within the black community. A few years ago such
a phrase would have drawn nothing but chuckles, but now the movement is visible enough to be noticed by the politicos and
media outlets that are paying attention to such things. In a few years black conservatism will be a force to be dealt with by both
More and more individuals are stepping forward, more and more organizations are being formed, more and more voices are
being heard from blacks whose positions on issues match more closely with Ronald Reagan than Jesse Jackson. At the time
these choices are to go against the grain -- these people are saying things not in tune with many leaders in their community. And
they say them not to stand out, but to lead. Not to move against, but to move ahead.
Indeed, when former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Colin Powell finally announced he would not enter the political race in
1996 he took the opportunity of the limelight to announce that he was, that day, registering as a Republican. In his stances he
was an exception that proved a new rule.
Powell, after all, is moderate where many studies show the majority of blacks to be quite conservative. Powell said he was
pro-choice, but blacks tend to be more pro-life than whites according to research. Powell called himself a progressive and a
Rockefeller Republican but, indeed, most blacks find themselves on the side of conservatives on many social issues.
Polls have revealed that most blacks, in stark contrast to the self-appointed race leaders often sought out by the conventional
media, favor strong anti-crime measures and significant reform of entitlement programs.
In fact, 1988 ABC exit polling showed that 18 percent of blacks described themselves as conservatives (while only around 10
percent vote that way). And an article in the Spring 1992 issue of Political Science Quarterly showed that on abortion, law
enforcement, special status for homosexuals, prayer in schools, welfare reform and more, studies and polls reveal the black
population as often being more conservative than the white population.
In a Black Enterprise survey in the July 1992 issue, despite some heavy liberal spin, a few interesting numbers stood out: 39.9
percent of respondents said significant tax cuts were the way to get the economy moving again and 53.4 percent said tax cuts
would be the best way to improve their personal economic situation. On welfare reform 60.5 percent said that learnfare
programs where schooling is required to get financial assistance were the way to go. On the whole, some very conservative
economic principles are at work in these numbers.
This is not to say that there are not issues on which the majority of blacks disagree with the standard conservative line. There
are many. It seems, though, that there is a larger base for traditional conservative themes within the black community than within
the white. The disconnect of these people from mainstream conservatism seems to be the association of the Republican Party
with either racist or anti-civil rights tones.
This association of the right with poor stances on race is not an insurmountable one, however. This is best proven by the fact
that this has not always been the perception -- that at one time, in fact, the opposite was true.
Part Two: Who left whom?
Political decision-making for blacks in America, quite obviously, began with emancipation which did not fully come into effect
until after Republican Abraham Lincoln s death, when his Democrat-cum-Unionist vice president, Andrew Johnson succeeded
him. Johnson s views, though, differed sharply with those of Lincoln and the Radical Republicans in the Congress and he
vetoed the Civil Rights Bill in 1866 that granted federal protection of freedmen s rights, pointing out that he thought it
The Radical Republicans overrode the veto and the legislation became law on April 9, 1866. To erase any question of such a
law s constitutionality, the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted and put out to the states -- with the radicals making clear that
passage of it was a mandatory ingredient in the Southern state s eventual full re-admission to the Union.
With that threat in the air and an even more pro-suffrage Congress in place, the First Reconstruction Act of March 2, 1867
was passed and America entered a period called the Radical Reconstruction -- where continuing dictates by the Congress of
Negroe suffrage were placed on the South.
With these realities, blacks in America overwhelmingly began their political history as Republicans. Backing presidents like U.S.
Grant and strongly supporting the Republican Congress, blacks supported the one party in an overwhelming way not
incomparable to their support of the Democrats in the modern era.
The period of reconstruction lasted until the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 but blacks stayed with the Republican
Party into the new century. Indeed, it took until the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the end of the over 60-year tie
to the Republican Party to begin to be broken.
Roosevelt was an immensely popular president and members of the working classes across the board supported his pushes for
labor reform and his quest to end the Great Depression with activist government tactics.
Two decades later, when GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (a senator from Arizona) campaigned in 1964 against
the Civil Rights Act, it was just another push to the left. When Lyndon Johnson announced his Great Society programs billed as
solutions to the problems of the cities, the move left continued.
After Richard Nixon s victory in the three-way 1968 presidential race he began building his 72 coalition by reaching out to the
supporters of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace -- which put the final nail in the coffin.
The long political relationship of blacks with liberal whites became so consistent that for long years few blacks could be
counted as ideological conservatives (consistently fewer than 10 percent voted Republican). Traditional conservatism within the
community remained, however, and with the slow but utter failure of many programs -- such as those of the Great Society --
promised to help blacks in the lower classes, some individuals came to slowly question not only the programs, but indeed
whether they were truly even created to help in the first place.
Few would argue that the plight of the black underclass got significantly better with the installation of Johnson s programs -- or
that tensions eased between the time of the Watts Riots and riots in East Los Angeles. Few would argue that those welfare
programs lifted people up. Quite the opposite.
Indeed, the regulations surrounding the welfare programs that were supported by the massive faceless bureaucracies limited the
amounts people on welfare could have in personal savings accounts -- thus restricting their ability to move out of dangerous
areas; refused certain monetary benefits to intact families -- thus paying these families to have the father move out; and by their
very method stripped families and individuals of their pride -- many in such a way as to guarantee multigenerational dependence
on this system. And on the political party that maintained it.
Many, of course, still need the system and many still desire it. Not necessarily because of the money, though: since the
beginning of the 1980s the rate of growth of the black middle class has risen. More because any threat to the system was seen
by many as a threat to a liberal way of life. Guardians of the system, such as Jackson, need to be guarding something to be
needed within the community -- and were and are quick to fan the flames when such programs are threatened.
Other individuals, though, have begun to step forward, seeing the system for what it is. Should the perception of the right as
racist be lifted, many more will step forward as well. In that, there are two steps:
First, for members of the political right to begin to clean up their own house on the issue of race. This is not the same as a shift
of positions. It is, instead, to begin paying attention to the black vote in America, to begin discussing the issues and spelling out
the reasons behind the arguments of ideological conservatives. It is more a matter of spending time and paying attention to race
as an issue than it is subscribing to some specific checklist of priorities.
Second, of course, is for the perception to be publicly questioned by blacks already on the right. And on that front the battle
has already been joined.
Part Three: New voices, new direction?
In 1996 Alan Keyes stepped to the front of the pack with a committed campaign for the GOP nomination. Proving to a whole
nation that he is one of the most thoughtful and eloquent speakers in the conservative movement, Keyes offers a lot of
leadership to this battle, and will no doubt break down many political stereotypes from the frontlines.
Much of the strength of the debate today is being brought by nationally syndicated radio personality Ken Hamblin out of
Denver, Colorado, who is infuriating NCAAP chapters and local race leaders with his cutting-edge criticisms of the failure of
the black liberal establishment to lead in any productive direction.
Another commentator, Armstrong Williams, who hosts a syndicated radio program called The Right Side out of Washington,
D.C. is a third generation Republican who used to be an aid for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and who now is also
the CEO of an international public relations company.
In print, Thomas Sowell, author and columnist has been an eloquent leader in this debate for many years. In that he is joined by
columnist and professor at George Mason University, Walter Williams -- who often sits in for Rush Limbaugh.
Other authors of books on the topic include Jared Taylor, who wrote Paved With Good Intentions, and Izola Foster who
wrote Izola on Conservatism.
Putting forward the arguments in magazine form are Willie and Gwen Richardson, who started National Minority Politics
magazine and have begun explaining why minorities should question Democrat principles instead of embracing them. In that they
are joined by Emmanuel McLittle s Destiny magazine out of Los Angeles, California.
On every issue that conservatives believe in, members of the black conservative movement are lending their voices, ideas and
sweat. Also in Los Angeles can be found Project 21 -- a group of young black conservatives with the intent of setting a new
agenda for the next generation. In Washington, Robert Woodson, founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
fights for conservative solutions for the inner cities and for the enterprise zone so desperately needed there. In the Congress the
side of the black conservative movement is ably presented by Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) who has frustrated and confounded
the liberal Congressional Black Caucus for many years, and Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.), once a fighter on the football field,
now fighting in a tougher battle.
There is, after all, derision rained down upon many in the black conservative movement for daring to defy traditional political
stereotypes. From the actions of Jesse Jackson himself to the Congressional Black Caucus treatment of it s GOP members to
Sunday morning political shows, many black conservatives -- when they are actually invited to participate -- are put down for
their political opinions in public forums.
When Pete Stark, a white representative from California, called Louis Sullivan -- the Bush administration s secretary of health
and human services -- a disgrace to his race on the House floor in 1994 for Sullivan s support of Republican social policies,
Sullivan s response was a classic rebuke of the premises which blacks in the nation s capitol are expected to accept: I don t
live on Pete Stark s plantation.
When J.C. Watts ran in Oklahoma his white Democrat opponent aired commercials with a picture of Watts from his college
football days sporting a mean look and a big afro -- appealing to possible racial fears in the predominantly white district -- he
lost decisively. Watts merely stepped forward with a smile on his face and explained that he had been quite proud of that afro
at the time.
There have been significant obstacles from all sides that have been overcome -- or are being worked on. The biggest may be
the fact that the nation s media often goes to certain self-appointed race leaders whenever a racial issue comes up in the
news cycle. In this action is a perpetuating of the perfectly wrong assumption that the community is monolithic. The breaking
down of that barrier has already begun, though, and more and more a diversity of views are represented on shows like Meet
The Press and sometimes even on evening news programs.
Should the black conservative movement continue in the rising pattern that it is currently in, the entire political dynamic may be
changed. Should blacks pursue a strategy that prohibits one party from taking them for granted and another party from writing
them off, both parties will surely be more responsive to their needs.
And, just as certain is that the conservative movement will become a little more diverse with the addition of these men and
women -- a little more diverse and a little surer of its convictions. No one can claim that this phenomenon is not already a
significant political movement. Soon it will be a force.