“We must reject not only the stereotypes that others have of us but also those that we have of ourselves.” ~Shirley Chisholm (U.S. Congresswoman and Presidential Candidate)
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation designed to outlaw discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, was enacted on July 2, 1964. This sweeping legislation was originally proposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, but did not make it past the Senate. During the 1964 Presidential election, as Kennedy’s successor and presidential candidate, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed through this groundbreaking legislation which affected everything from voting access to education. This political move by President Johnson has played a key role in Black voter loyalty to the Democratic Party for the last five decades.
Between the Civil War and the 1928 Presidential election, most Black voters were Republican, due in large part to President Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, being the first Republican to win the presidency. However, this strong Republican leaning was also influenced by the Democratic Party’s loyalty to segregationists in the south. Black Americans were not even allowed full access to Democratic conventions prior to 1924.
The shift we see today was sparked by the formation of the “New Deal Coalition” during the Presidential election of 1932 which propelled Franklin Roosevelt to the White House. The New Deal Coalition was the alliance of interest groups and voting blocs including labor unions, small farmers, white Southerners, and Black Americans among others. This coalition secured strong national election wins for the Democratic party from 1932 until 1968, when the coalition split on issues including civil rights and the Vietnam War.
Many of the New Deal Coalition groups broke ties completely with the Democratic Party, yet Black voters remained stanchly loyal to the party. According to a Pew Research Center study published on September 13, 2016, 87% of Black Americans identified as Democrats from 1992 to 2016, and only 7% reported being Republicans. Yet this unwavering loyalty has been met by a questionable lack of reciprocity by the Democratic Party.
As a Black woman, who is a super voter and former U.S. Congressional candidate, I am disheartened with our current political system and party options. The Democratic Party remains apathetic to the needs of Black Americans while the Republican Party thrives on oppressive policy. Despite this conundrum, I along with millions more voters and potential voters refuse to throw up my hands and walk away defeated. Black voters have the power to shift elections statewide and nationally.
Black voter loyalty to the Democratic Party secured the victory for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, marking the first time Black voter turnout percentages exceeded that of white voters. The dedication of Black voters again made all the difference in Senator Doug Jones’ win in 2017. Now what?
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy, but empowering voters to engage beyond election day is the goal. It is time for Black voters to rethink how we fit into our political system and place a renewed emphasis on voter education. It is necessary to create an agenda that holds our elected officials accountable after we vote them into office. The future of the Black vote depends on it. As stated by social reformer and statesman Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”