If there is a more fatuous right wing trope than "Martin Luther King was a Republican" it has to be the utterly nonsensical line that Democrats are the true racists because they were the southern party during Jim Crow. Inevitably, in any discussion of race, some smart-aleck troll smugly interjects the irrelevant fact that the departed Democratic Senator Robert Byrd was a member of the KKK and some very clever boy or girl shares the astonishingly obvious fact that Republican Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Case closed, Democrats are the racists and the Republicans are the African Americans' true allies.
I'm not going to go over the same tired ground that hundreds of others have covered to refute this foolishness. Even the trolls know that many millions of people who used to vote for Democrats switched parties after the various civil rights acts were passed in the '60s under a Democratic majority. While they deny there was ever such a thing as the "Southern Strategy," and pretend that racist appeals for votes never happened, that's also a documented fact and they know that too.
But just because conservatives are clearly playing games, it doesn't lessen the insult to African Americans when they make these inane claims. After all, if Democrats are the "real racists," then 95 percent are African Americans must be very dumb indeed.
Here's one of conservatives' more "entertaining" strategies for proving their specious argument, from a chain email I received some time back, a painfully awkward attempt at satirizing the voice of a supposedly Democratic racist:
CAPTURE and RETURN RUNAWAYS from the Democratic Party's LIBERAL PLANTATION.
Any Person of Color claiming to be Republican, Conservative or a member of the Tea Party is suspect and should be berated, insulted, abused and returned.
BE ON THE LOOK-OUT
Runaways often speaking in an uppity manner about right the individual, personal responsibility an greatness of America and other such nonsense.
THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
THE PARTY OF JIM CROW
THE PARTY OF BULL CONNOR
in the not so distant past would lynch People of Color for voting Republican.
Then we learned it's far better to just buy their votes using taxpayer money and for over forty years that's what we have done!
WE OWN THEM.
*Amount of cash reward pending results of our fund-raising efforts. You didn't expect us to use our own money, did you?
Those are words on a widely trafficked chain email, based upon real runaway slave posters. And it is disgusting, not only for the revolting imagery, but for making a mockery of the horror of slavery itself. After all, what this is is saying is that the vast majority of African Americans are "owned" by the Democratic Party, not because they've been bought but because they've been "bought-off," and by implication have no sense of personal responsibility or belief in the "greatness of America."
Again, this is a truly specious line of argument. They are saying that Black people vote Democratic because they've been "bought off" with all that generous welfare and food stamp money. The only "good" Black people, therefore, are the "runaways" who vote Republican. (Could they be any more contemptuous of the people they are supposed to be defending?) This "liberal plantation" concept, while not always as crudely expressed as in the aforementioned email, is pervasive among right wingers. And truthfully, this argument is often deployed by African American conservatives who obviously have a claim to use the imagery even though their message is insulting to the vast number of fellow African Americans who vote Democratic.
The question of why Black Americans vote for Democrats is not a mystery and it has nothing to do with being "bought (off)." As everyone surely knows, when they were allowed to do it at all, black Americans traditionally voted for the party of Abraham Lincoln for many years. This was for obvious reasons --- he was the man who freed the slaves. But as this article in the Washington Post points out, African Americans started voting for Democrats long before they allegedly started chasing all that free government money:
[The] Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies pulled data from independent research, Gallup polling, exit polls, professional polling firms and their own surveys to put together a look at the partisan makeup of black voters since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. That the data start in 1936 and not, say, with the emancipation of slaves after the Civil War -- thanks largely to a Republican president -- is because the ability of black Americans to vote was regularly restricted and uneven.
In the decade before 1948, black Americans identified as Democrats about as often as they did Republicans. In 1948, as Real Clear Politics' Jay Cost wrote a few years ago, Democrat Harry Truman made an explicit appeal for new civil rights measures from Congress, including voter protections, a federal ban on lynching and bolstering existing civil rights laws. That year, the number of blacks identifying as Democrats increased.
The second big jump is the one that you likely thought of first: The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Its passage in July of that year was the culmination of a long political struggle that played out on Capitol Hill. When he signed the bill, President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said that Democrats would, as a result, lose the South for a generation. It's been longer than that.[...]
It's worth [looking at the] Democratic vote in the heart of the South, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. The average support for the Democratic candidate each year has slipped downward, but plummeted in 1948 and 1964. In the latter year, those states backed Barry Goldwater. In the former, they largely backed the States Rights party candidate, Strom Thurmond.
Black Americans have many reason to vote Democratic. But it was two Democratic presidents proposing civil rights legislation that made them leave the Republican Party in large numbers. Likewise, it was that same movement for civil rights that made many of those white Southern Democrats switch to the GOP.
And the Republican party is still having a problem dealing with the fallout. As Brian Beutler points out in this piece at The New Republic:
[S]ince the 2012 election Republicans have been engaged in a quiet and unresolved debate amongst themselves over which of the following three strategic reforms to pursue:
1) Making genuine, substantive concessions to minority voters.
2) Making symbolic and rhetorical concessions to minority voters, without making significant changes to the GOP’s substantive agenda.
3) Making no concessions to minority voters whatsoever, while working to increase the GOP’s already impressive margins among white voters.
Two developments in the past month—the mass killing of black worshippers by a white supremacist at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—have thrown into stark relief how badly option one lost out to options two and three. The ongoing Republican presidential primary has become a contest to determine which of the latter two models the party will adopt in the 2016 election.
The hesitancy of the GOP presidential candidates to step up in the wake of the Charleston massacre says everything about their "outreach" to African Americans. The popularity of Donald Trump's crude nativism among the base likewise illuminates their difficulty in attracting Latinos in sufficient numbers to win a national election. They are stuck.
But what can they expect? When you have people constantly spewing vacuous nonsense about the Democrats being the party of racism even as you are insulting African Americans to their faces, it's hard to make a case for minorities voting for your party. Calling immigrants a bunch of rapists and criminals and rising dramatically in the GOP primary polls isn't exactly a friendly gesture of inclusion.
Whether they like it or not, it is a historical fact that many people who were once members of the Democratic Party switched their affiliation to the GOP when the Democrats voted for civil rights legislation and Democratic presidents signed it. This is not a debatable point. That so many Republicans choose to pretend this isn't so is either a sign that they are arguing in bad faith or they are living in denial. Either way, it won't solve their problem: they just have no idea what to do about all the resentful white voters they've been opportunistically coaxing into their coalition for the last few decades. They can try to prevent people from voting and they can pretend that "illegal immigrants" are stealing elections. But it won't change the fundamental reality that they are on the wrong side of history and have been for a very long time.