Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

"Both Parties Hedging": Reassessing Party Loyalty among Black New Yorkers, 1952-1961

Academic journal article Afro-Americans in New York Life and History

"Both Parties Hedging": Reassessing Party Loyalty among Black New Yorkers, 1952-1961

Article excerpt

I used to think the Democrats were better for Colored people but I have  to change my mind because the desegregation bill was passed under the  Republicans, all these years we've been getting promises from the Dems  but nothing ever came of it. African American Survey Respondent, Staten Island, NY, 1957 (2) 

The common consensus in the twenty-first century is that African Americans always vote for Democrats, with a few exceptions, in presidential elections. In 2016, for example, African Americans supported the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton by 89 percent--the highest percentage of support among any of the major ethnic groups in America. While the number was not as high as the 95 percent of African Americans who cast their ballots for Barack Obama in 2008, such high rates of Democratic support lend themselves to the idea that the black populace casts its ballots compelled by an unbreakable bond with the Democratic Party. (3) An overwhelming majority of African Americans have voted Democratic in presidential elections beginning in 1964 when 94 percent of black voters cast ballots for Lyndon Johnson--a jump from 68 percent in 1960. Since then, African American support for Democratic presidential candidates has never fallen below 84 percent. (4) This resounding support for Democrats obscures the fact that black voters are not a monolith who share near identical concerns and values. Survey data for black New Yorkers from 1952 to 1961--a period when black voters were already commonly portrayed as a mass who, perhaps blindly, cast its ballots without deliberation--reveals that African American voters were more concerned about economic issues, civil rights, and the fitness of particular candidates rather than party affiliation. (5)

African Americans' preference for the Democratic Party is generally dated back to 1936. After four years of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the majority of African Americans, who had the ability to vote, transitioned from regularly supporting Republican presidential candidates, a practice that dated back to the days of Abraham Lincoln to consistently voting for Democrats who offered economic relief. (6) This switch made African Americans a vital component of the New Deal coalition, which included white southerners, who had traditionally voted Democratic, and communities in the industrial North including union members, recent immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, blue-collar workers, and people who supported more government intervention to manage the economy. Although the majority of African Americans voted for Democratic presidential candidates between 1936 and 1960, there were notable variations. In 1956, for example, when Adlai Stevenson ran for president as the Democratic Party nominee for the second time, his support dropped 14 percent in black districts in Manhattan. (7) That support, for the most part, shifted to Dwight Eisenhower. (8) Henry Lee Moon, a civil rights advocate and author of Balance of Power: The Negro Vote, reported that Democratic support in Harlem had actually declined 16 percent between 1952 and 1956, while support for Stevenson dropped 24.4 percent among African Americans in a variety of southern cities such as Baltimore, Raleigh, Mobile, and New Orleans. (9) While the majority of African Americans nationwide (61 percent) voted for Stevenson in 1956, the decreased support across the nation (76 percent of black voters cast ballots for him in 1952) and New York City suggests that black voters were indeed evaluating presidential candidates every election cycle and a noteworthy minority was willing to vote for a Republican if they thought the candidate would better serve their interests. (10) While the 1952 election is illustrative, this article looks beyond voting returns to identify and assess the varied opinions expressed by African Americans in and around New York City. (11)

The purpose of this article is twofold: First, it uses survey data collected by a prominent political analyst to highlight a period mainly in the 1950s when African American voters were often described as a loyal Democratic bloc to foreground the diversity of political thought among African Americans that was obscured by such descriptions. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.