Magazine article The Crisis

Black Republicans Gain Modest Ground in South

Magazine article The Crisis

Black Republicans Gain Modest Ground in South

Article excerpt

When President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, he changed the face of the Democratic Party. The party, once primarily Southern and segregationist, became liberal and integrated, sending staunch Dixiecrats such as Strom Thurmond of South Carolina and Trent Lott of Mississippi to find a new home in the Republican Party. Some 30 years later, there may be a new Southern defection to the Republican Party, this time by African Americans.

In 2004, a record number of Black Republicans, 14, ran for office in Georgia. Rep. Willie Talton became the first Black Republican in the Georgia legislature since Reconstruction, while Rep. Johnny Ford achieved the same status in Alabama's state House by changing parties. Jennifer Carroll was elected the first Black female Republican in the Florida state Congress in 2003.

While civil rights was the moral issue of the 1960s, it's the debate over moral values, along with a difference of opinion on economic strategy and education policy, that has driven some Southern Blacks to the GOP.

"The 2004 election really brought to fore the differences between the parties. Everything I stood for was represented in the Republican Party," says Judge Luke A. LaVergne, 66, a longtime Louisiana Democrat and family court judge in Baton Rouge who switched parties in January. "I share the same philosophy with respect to economics, patriotism, value for life and moral values."

LaVergne believes that Democrats have taken Blacks for granted and gone too far left, getting away from the party's moral center shown during the Civil Rights Movement. He and fellow Southern Black Republicans say they are going back to Reconstruction to find their political roots, when African American men were first granted the right to vote and hold office.

Carroll, 45, of Trinidadian descent, believes that some Democratic policies, such as a welfare system that keeps Black families apart and support for failing schools, have made the African American community too dependent on the government for its success, hindering its growth. …

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