Will Heartfelt Penitence Woo the Black Vote?

Article excerpt

The seventies saw African-American intellectuals question the power of the Democratic Party in their community. Many wonder if a segment of the black vote could be the GOP's for the asking.

When Bob Dole rejected a speaking invitation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he indicated that black activists are part of the core constituency of the Democratic Party. Yet, 100 years ago, blacks were one constituency the GOP could take for granted in Kansas and wherever else they actually were allowed to vote.

For the half-century that followed the Civil War, the Democratic Party tended to stand for localism and the preservation of regional folkways, a bias that, according to Michael Barone's political history Our Country, allied them with saloon-keepers in the North and segregationists in the South.

Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved an amazing political feat, bringing Southern whites and Northern blacks (many of whom had moved north as a result of the Depression) into one coalition. Then Harry Truman integrated the armed forces and insisted his party adopt a civil-rights plank, even at the cost of a politically dangerous split with the party's Southern wing.

While it was a Republican ex-governor, appointed chief justice by a Republican president, who engineered the Supreme Court's school-integration opinion in Brown vs. Board of Education, the GOP nonetheless failed to capture the initiative with black voters. Democrats enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and their lock on the black vote has continued for another three decades.

Only in the late seventies did there begin to emerge a generation of African-American intellectuals who questioned whether liberalism and the Democratic Party had been as helpful to their community as generally was assumed. A partial list of these pioneers of the "Afro-con" movement would include the late Clarence Pendleton, chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; Clarence Thomas, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee and now a Supreme Court justice; economists Glenn Loury, Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, the late columnist Larry Wade; and former State Department official, philosopher and presidential candidate Alan Keyes.

Yet despite the awakening of black conservatism, many Republicans continue to assume they have no choice but to write off the black vote. The Dole campaign's black outreach gets failing marks from Gwenevere Daye Richardson, editor of Headway, formerly National Minority Politics, a black conservative magazine. …