Black Republican doesn’t know his Black history

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Earlier this month, during an event in Philadelphia supporting Donald Trump and the Republican Party, Florida Representative Byron Donalds made the attention-grabbing assertion that Black families were stronger and more conservative under the Jim Crow era.

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said. “During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — because Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”


His commentary was challenged by New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader, who called Donalds’ remarks “factually inaccurate.” The Democratic National Committee said it was “absurd to suggest” the Jim Crow era “was anything but a horrific stain on our country’s history.” The NAACP’s president, Derrick Johnson, said during an interview on CNN that Donalds was attempting to “self-benefit using a false narrative.”

According to the Jim Crow Museum at Michigan’s Ferris State University, “Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively, in southern and border states between 1877 and the mid-1960s.” It was both a legal framework to oppress Black Americans and a cultural one that relegated them to the lowest social status, enforced by systemic violence. “All major societal institutions reflected and supported the oppression of black people.”

There are gross inaccuracies with individuals like Donalds, who espouse such horrendously misguided assertions. But the single most important problem is neither the Black family nor the Black community was all that strong or intact under either slavery or Jim Crow, nor were there — in Donalds’s formulation — more Black families. Slavery was the epitome of the fundamental instability of Black families. The institution relied on the exploitation of slave labor. Black people were forced to have children who were then sold for profit. Families were routinely separated as part for the course.

Upon the conclusion of the presidential election of 1876 , 15 white men gathered in a room to figure out a solution to the first Stop the Steal movement. Known as the Wormley Agreement or the Compromise of 1877, five Supreme Court justices, five senators and five representatives awarded the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes and his vice president, Samuel Tilden, provided he would end Reconstruction. Among the requirements included a detailed verification that the federal government would prohibit demanding that former confederate states recognize the constitutional rights of Black citizens. As a result of such a horrendously regressive policy, state legislatures in the north and south rapidly and enthusiastically implemented a series of racially discriminatory policies that became known as Jim Crow laws.

For almost a century — from the end of race-based slavery until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — every Black person in America lived under this constitutionally-enforced, government-approved system of white supremacy. Black codes created after emancipation became law. Racially segregated schools were mandatory. It was legally permissible to politically disenfranchise Black voters and prohibit non-white people from living wherever they wanted. It was legal to physically harass, attack or murder any Black person or rape Black women and murder Black children with legal impunity (e.g., Emmett Till, Recy Taylor and numerous other Black women).

It was a system that denied Black taxpayers the privilege of using facilities built and maintained with their tax dollars. In essence, their entire humanity was at the mercy of a white population that was often outright hostile to their well-being.

This is the sort of America that Byron Donalds salutes and encourages Black Americans to adopt.

Donalds’ revisionist, fictionalized account of American history is thoroughly disproven by history, facts and hard evidence to the contrary. Before Jim Crow was legally dismantled, the nation was not a democracy. Black people were routinely murdered, raped, tortured, discriminated against and pillaged. They were denied the right to vote, access to unions, most institutions of higher learning and certain types of more desired jobs. The history of Black Americans has been one filled with rivers of blood, mountains of sweat and more than a few tears.

The results of slavery, Jim Crow, Black codes, and outright unapologetic violence have deeply affected America’s Black population. The results still linger with us today. Denying such hard truths will not bring us any closer to any sort of racial reconciliation.

Rather, acknowledging that racial conflict is a serious problem and making a valiant, diligent and committed effort to tackling the issue will be the only viable solution to addressing such a crisis. Such gross misrepresentations must be denounced and challenged at every turn.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.