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Wait, so Jim Crow Was a Good Period for Blacks in America? Could Have Fooled Me

Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

’Tis the season for Donald Trump to audition potential running mates while the rest of us speculate on who the lucky winner will be.

The trial by political fire was on full display last week as the entire Democratic Party establishment seemed to rise up and pile on Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, whom multiple news outlets have put on Trump’s short list of possible running mates.

His offense? He expressed what sounded to many ears, including mine, like nostalgia for the bad old days of Jim Crow segregation.

“During Jim Crow the Black family was together,” Donalds said during a Black GOP outreach event in Philadelphia last week, according to Politico. “More Black people were — not just conservative, because Black people always have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”

He also took a few shots at decades-old poverty-fighting policies from the days of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, saying they promoted a culture of dependence, a defining critique for many of today’s conservatives.

Not surprisingly, media reports of his remarks were followed by blowback from allies of President Joe Biden, including the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

“It has come to my attention that a so-called leader has made the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow,” he said in a posting on X, formerly Twitter, of his stinging remarks from the House floor last Wednesday,

After listing some of the tragic aspects of that era — from lynching to the suppression of the Black vote — he concluded, “How dare you make such an ignorant observation?”

Devastating. But was he right? Different ears will hear his remarks through their varied experiences.

I’m old enough to remember the last days of Jim Crow as a Black child visiting relatives in the South and, take it from me, we’re better off now. I see nothing in the Jim Crow period to which I wish to return.

Yet, I know Donalds is right to extol the conservative values of family, faith and hard work that enabled Black American families to survive and succeed in that period — and the danger of excessive dependency on government programs.

Such dependency is easier to avoid when you also have the jobs and income that come with economic prosperity. (Affordable college tuition quickly comes to mind when I compare my generation with that of my son.)

 

Studies show there has been a slight closing of the racial income gap but there also has been a persistent class gap that crosses racial lines. I have long called for more attention to be paid to that gap through policies that recognize the economic struggles we all experience, regardless of race.

Unfortunately, some political leaders see short-term gains in using the gap to stir resentments between the classes instead of working together for mutual benefit.

For the young voters now rising, the memories of us old-timers have limited impact. They have concerns of their own that the veteran politicians must address.

That may help to explain why Joe Biden has been losing support among younger African Americans. Polls run by The New York Times and Siena College consistently have found support for Trump among more than 20% of Black voters in six critical battleground states.

That’s striking because Trump won only 8% of the Black vote nationally in 2020 and 6% in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center. A Republican presidential candidate has not won more than 12% of the Black vote in nearly half a century.

Those polls were before Trump’s conviction on 34 felony counts, and Democrats predict their voters will return to the fold by November.

In the meantime, I am encouraged to see both parties actively competing for the Black vote, which I think is still largely waiting to be energized in the post-Obama era. Choices are what democracy is all about or, at least, should be.

We can do without the nostalgia unless it helps us to deal with the challenges of today’s world.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

©2024 Clarence Page. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


(c) 2024 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.


 

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