For the Freedom of Her Race: Black Women and Electoral Politics in Illinois, 1877-1932

By Lisa G. Materson | Go to book overview

[4]
The Prohibition Issue as a Smoke Screen:
The Failure of Racial Uplift Ideology and the 1928 Election

In the heat of the 1928 presidential contest between New York’s Democratic governor Alfred E. Smith and Republican Herbert Hoover, the Colored Women’s Department of the Republican National Committee issued a pamphlet entitled, The Prohibition Issue as a Smoke Screen. The pamphlet sought to focus the attention of black voters on one of the most contested topics of the 1928 election, whether the Eighteenth Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor, should be gradually dismantled, repealed altogether, or remain part of the U.S. Constitution. The pamphlet argued that Democrat Alfred Smith’s promise to weaken or annul the Volstead Act—the enforcement provision of the Eighteenth Amendment—was merely “a smoke screen to attract voters” to the Democratic Party, including the majority of black voters who had been loyal Republicans for more than six decades. Leading black Republican women feared that black voters would put their desire for a drink or profits ahead of any kind of historical commitment to the Republican Party. Smith knew perfectly well, the pamphlet explained, that he could not fulfill this campaign promise. As the pamphlet pointed out, “There are 195 Democrats in Congress, 126 of whom represent the dry South, and under no circumstances would they vote to modify the Volstead Act.” Smith’s promise to modify the Volstead Act, black Republican women asserted in the pamphlet, was a “smoke screen” white Democrats were fanning in order to lure black voters who were increasingly dissatisfied with the Republican Party to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, these Republican women insisted, did not represent black interests—quite the contrary. Once Democrats regained control of the White House, they would, in the words of the Prohibition Issue as a Smoke Screen pamphlet, “complete our disfranchisement, segregation and humiliation.”1

The 1928 presidential election battle between Hoover and Smith was

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