Blogs > Liberty and Power > Should the Democratic Party Apologize for Jim Crow/Slavery?

Jun 25, 2005 7:31 pm

Should the Democratic Party Apologize for Jim Crow/Slavery?

Rev. Wayne Perryman, author of Unfounded Loyalty: An In-depth Look Into the Blind Love Affair Between Blacks and Democrats, is pushing the idea.

He makes a good case. The Democrats certainly have a lot to apologize for. No party did more to defend slavery, create Jim Crow, fight lynching legislation, and promote disfranchisement.

In an interview yesterday, Perryman said he asked Howard Dean to support a formal apology from the party. He said that Dean spurned the suggestion without explanation. Not surprisingly, Dean and many fellow Democrats (who are normally enthusiastic about apologies of this type) don't want to draw attention to the dark past of their party.

As an alternative to such an apology, I suggest that the Democrats seize the opportunity to emphasize substance rather symbolism. There are two actions that they can take right now which will accomplish far more than more flowery words to better the lives of ordinary blacks.

First, the Democrats can come out strongly against continuation of the drug war. For nearly a century, this war has fostered disorder, death, and decay in countless urban black neighborhoods. It has also ruined the lives of thousands of black men by confining them to prison.

A second way for the Democrats to show that are sincere in their desire to help blacks is to condemn the Supreme Court's Kelo decision in no uncertain terms. Better yet, they can support state laws to ban the use of eminent to subsidize"development." As in the drug war, the primary victims of eminent domain are urban dwellers, many of them black, who lack political clout.


Interestingly, Clarence Thomas's dissent in Kelo cogently stresses how eminent domain projects since the 1950s have disproportionately harmed blacks:

Those incentives have made the legacy of this Courts public purpose test an unhappy one. In the 1950s, no doubt emboldened in part by the expansive understanding of public use this Court adopted in Berman, cities rushed to draw plans for downtown development. Of all the families displaced by urban renewal from 1949 through 1963, 63 percent of those whose race was known were nonwhite, and of these families, 56 percent of nonwhites and 38 percent of whites had incomes low enough to qualify for public housing, which, however, was seldom available to them. Public works projects in the 1950s and 1960s destroyed predominantly minority communities in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Baltimore, Maryland. In 1981, urban planners in Detroit, Michigan, uprooted the largely lower-income and elderly Poletown neighborhood for the benefit of the General Motors Corporation. Urban renewal projects have long been associated with the displacement of blacks; [i]n cities across the country, urban renewal came to be known as Negro removal. Over 97 percent of the individuals forcibly removed from their homes by the slum-clearance project upheld by this Court in Berman were black. Regrettably, the predictable consequence of the Court’s decision will be to exacerbate these effects.

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David Timothy Beito - 6/27/2005

Ralph. Do you think that the Democratic Party has a moral obligation to apologize?

Lisa Casanova - 6/26/2005

All of these are difficult questions. Collective guilt seems to me a very hard concept- Dr. Luker raises a good point about Germany and Japan, but how do we assign collective guilt, how wide is its reach and how long does it last? Does it last after the wronged and the people who committed the wrong are dead, and who assumes the responsibility then? Germany and Japan are not huge, homogenous entities; they are made up of individuals, many of whom committed none of these wrongs and were not even born when they were done. Likewise, many members of the Senate and the Democratic Party (with exceptions) played no part in the horrors of slavery, lynchings, or the terrible wrongs that were committed against black people under Jim Crow. Are they still responsible for what their party used to be? What is the moral basis of that responsibility, and how do we decide when they've sufficiently atoned for it? I'm not saying I reject the idea that apologies might be the right thing; it just seems that without answers to these questions we end up with apologies that don't help and wrongs that people still feel have never been righted.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

I take it this means that Germany has no collective guilt for the crimes of Nazi Germany and that Japan has nothing to apologize for in the use of slave labor in WWII.

Jason Kuznicki - 6/26/2005

Hidden aganda? It was so well-hidden that at the time of my original post, I hadn't even thought of it!

But I have to say that, unpopular as this will make me, I would not have voted to apologize for the failure to pass anti-lynching laws. It was truly an awful failure, but not one for which I could plausibly be held to account.

David Timothy Beito - 6/26/2005

For the record, if were a Senator, I would have voted for this apology. At the same time, I would have pointed out the hypocrisy, double standards of the Democrats who refuse to support an apology for their own party. In addition, I would have stressed the greater need for substance (such as opposition to Kelo and drug war) rather than symbolism.

David Timothy Beito - 6/26/2005

Then....why do Dean and his allies refuse to support an apology on behalf of the Democratic party itself? Are the party's actions in this case purely opportunistic? After all, most of the folks blocking antilynching and civil rights legislation (as late as 1965!) were Democrats.

As long as the Democrats refuse to take their own medicine, they can not be regarded as anything more than complete and shameless hypocrites. If they support apologies fine.....but if they do they should have the courage of their own convictions.

Ralph E. Luker - 6/26/2005

It is at least relevent to this discussion that 11 Republican Senators refused to co-sponsor the recent resolution that apologized for the Senate's failure to pass anti-lynching legislation. No Democratic Senators so refused. That kind of hard fact will continue to persuade most African American voters that the Democratic Party is a safer vehicle for their interests than is the latter day Republican Party in its Dixiecratized habiliments.

David Timothy Beito - 6/26/2005

You have exposed my hidden agenda!

Jason Kuznicki - 6/25/2005

So it could, so it could.

David Timothy Beito - 6/25/2005

I concede your point but please note that all of the same arguments could be used be used against the U.S. Senate's recent apology for lynching.

Jason Kuznicki - 6/25/2005

I must agree with Brian.

If Howard Dean owes blacks an apology for slavery by virtue of being a Democrat, then I owe auto accident victims an apology by virtue of driving a car, even though I've never hurt anyone while driving. Institutions do not have consciousness--and therefore cannot meaningfully apologize.

Brian Radzinsky - 6/25/2005

Yes the Democratic party was once the stronghold of slavery. But we must make the important distinction between parties and partisans here.

Let's not forget that the Republican party was once the strong hold of protectionists, America-firsters, and free-soilers. One hundred years later their candidates were decrying the ills of big government.

Likewise, the Democratic party of today has no sympathy for Jim Crow at all. Rather than being representative of any consistant ideology, parties are clearinghouses or media for broad (and admittedly often schizophrenic) political goals. To expect them to remain tied to their past actions or ideas is expecting too much.

I'm not disagreeing with what you say the Democrats should be doing, however. Yes they should oppose the drug war and entitlements programs that keep blacks and other minorities in ghettos of economic subjugation,as well as the horror that was Kelo. But to say that the Democrats of today should apologize for Jim Crow is like asking all white Northerners to apologize for the Fugitive Slave Law.