A Storied Record on Civil Rights; the 150-Year-Old Roots of the Republican Party

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 23, 2006 | Go to article overview
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A Storied Record on Civil Rights; the 150-Year-Old Roots of the Republican Party


Byline: Michael Zak, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Especially during February, Black History Month, the Republican Party should take great pride in its heritage of civil rights achievement.

While celebrating the birth this month of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, Republicans should also honor a friend and adviser to the "Great Emancipator," Frederick Douglass. Douglass, who would celebrate his birthday on Feb. 14, had a favorite saying: "The Republican Party is the ship; all else is the sea."

The 13th Amendment banning slavery, the 14th Amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the laws and the 15th Amendment according black Americans the right to vote - all three were accomplished by the Republican Party despite fierce opposition from the Democrats. In the words of Mary Church Terrell, a black Republican who co-founded the NAACP: "Every right that has been bestowed upon blacks was initiated by the Republican Party."

The author of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren, had been a Republican governor of California and the party's 1948 vice presidential nominee. Three years later, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, who had appointed Warren to the Supreme Court, sent federal troops to Little Rock, Ark., to overcome opposition by the Democratic governor to a court order desegregating the public schools. It was a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who, as Eisenhower's attorney general, wrote the 1957 Civil Rights Act. Republican lawmakers supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act much more than did the Democrats.

Today, Republicans across the country celebrate - or should celebrate - the 150th anniversary of the Republican National Committee, which was established on Feb. 23, 1856.

Two years before, anti-slavery activists had established the Grand Old Party to stop the pro-slavery agenda of the Democratic Party. On March 20, 1854, several dozen men and women in Ripon, Wis., called for a new political party, to be called the Republican Party. A few months later, on July 6, a convention of 10,000 anti-slavery activists at Jackson, Mich., organized the first state Republican Party. Among the leaders of that meeting was a former mayor of Detroit, Zachariah Chandler, who had protected slaves escaping north in the underground railroad. Chandler would later serve in the Senate and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Any muffler shop in America would celebrate its 10th anniversary, but two years ago, the Republican Party neglected to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

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