But when a black state senator from Louisiana escaped the Democratic plantation earlier this month less than 60 years after Johnson's boast, he did far more than expose the emptiness of the party's claim to be the sole protector of civil rights. He challenged African Americans nationwide to rely on themselves instead of government, and to aspire to prosperity instead of mere survival.
A Fort Wayne man who came to a similar realization when he was 19 understands why State Sen. Elbert Guillory is now a Republican. But Emery McClendon also knows from painful experience the price Guillory will pay for his personal declaration of independence.
“I was blackballed by my family. It was the same thing in the military,” said McClendon, 61, a FedEx driver and leader in Fort Wayne's tea party movement.
But in a video statement that has “gone viral” on the Internet and made the once-obscure politician an instant celebrity among conservatives, Guillory has eloquently and forcefully offered blacks a reason to question their allegiance to a party he insists neither deserves nor rewards their support.
“In recent history the Democrat Party has created the illusion that their agenda and their policies are what's best for black people. Somehow it's been forgotten that the Republican Party was founded in 1854 as an abolitionist movement with one simple creed: that slavery is a violation of the rights of man . . . the first Republican president was Abraham Lincoln, the author of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was the Republicans in Congress who authored the amendments giving former slaves citizenship, voting rights, and due process of law. It was Democrats who defended the rights of slave owners. It was the Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who championed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, but it was Democrats in the Senate who filibustered the bill,” Guillory explained.
Now, it would be revisionism of the most cynical kind to give the GOP sole credit for the death of Jim Crow. The Democrat Johnson did indeed sign the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. But in Congress, a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats supported the legislation. It was a bipartisan achievement.
So why do more than 90 percent of blacks regularly vote Democratic, thereby fulfilling Johnson's cynical prophesy (echoes of which can be heard in today's debate over illegal immigration)?
“Propoganda,” McClendon said. “A while ago a few blacks and I were talking about George Wallace (former governor of Alabama) and 'Bull' Conner (former public safety commissioner in Birmingham, both notorious for their support of segregation). They were saying how bad those Republicans were, but I said: 'Do your homework. They were Democrats.' ”
That ignorance of the past, he and Guillory agree, has real consequences today and, potentially, for years to come.
“At the heart of liberalism is the idea that only a great and powerful big government can be the benefactor of social justice for all Americans,” Guillory said. “Programs such as welfare, food stamps, these programs aren't designed to lift black Americans out of poverty; they were always intended as a mechanism for politicians to control the black community. Our self-initiative and our self-reliance have been sacrificed in exchange for allegiance to our overseers who control us by making us dependent on them.”
Guillory said he had long shared some traditional GOP values but decided to abandon the Democratic party only after his peers accused foes of Obamacare of being racists. For McClendon, the epiphany came when he realized the Democrat Party did not share the same values his parents professed.
“The party was promoting abortion and the idea that women didn't need a man. “ 'This is what we'll do for you,' ” McClendon said. “But free markets and capitalism offer the greatest opportunity. If you get an education and work, you will succeed. If you rely on the government, you will have only what it allows you to have.”
Just like back in plantation days.
The Republican Party is far from perfect, and only a fool would give it blind allegiance. So why are blacks, women and others who deviate from Democratic orthodoxy so often condemned as heretics?
Slavery comes in many forms, it seems – some of which persist despite self-serving claims to the contrary. So be free. Get the facts. Think for yourself.