Dear Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz:
I note with interest this statement from you with regard to the controversy over the flying of the Confederate flag on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. You said:
For decades community leaders in South Carolina — and across the country — have been calling to get rid of this symbol of hatred, and action has been long overdue.
But this is just the beginning of a conversation we as a society need to have about race, bigotry and violence in this country — not the end of one.
Good enough. It’s good to know you wish to begin this conversation and I am happy to oblige. Let me begin with this question:
Will the Democratic Party finally apologize for supporting slavery, segregation, lynching, and the Ku Klux Klan?
Let me recall these lines from some of your party platforms.
From your 1840 platform:
Resolved, That congress has no power, under the constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several states, and that such states are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the constitution; that all efforts by abolitionists or others, made to induce congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions.
And again in your 1844 platform:
That Congress has no power, under the Constitution, to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States; and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything pertaining to their own affairs, not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts, by abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union, and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our Political Institutions.
This staunch support for slavery — not to mention the unsubtle threat that accompanied it (there would be “alarming and dangerous consequences” if serious attempts to abolish it were made) is repeated again in your party platforms of 1848 and 1852.
By 1856, your party’s support of slavery was expanded in your newest platform, with several additional sections added including vowing: “That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.”
In 1860 your platform said: “Resolved, That the Democratic party will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States upon these questions of Constitutional law.” This was, in fact, an endorsement of the infamous Dred Scott decision by the Court, a decision which legal scholars say was designed to write slavery into the Constitution. And your party approved of it.
As the Civil War was ending your party opposed the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment — which ended slavery. Among those who opposed ending slavery was Congressman Fernando Wood. Wood (as noted in Bruce Bartlett’s Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past) was not only a member from New York, he was a former mayor of New York. Wood explained why he and the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus — in which you now sit — opposed ending slavery.
The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.…The condition of domestic servitude as existing in the southern states is the highest condition of which the African race is capable…
Likewise your party opposed not only the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments that gave legal rights to African-Americans as well as the right to vote, your party supporters banded together to form the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan being described by University of North Carolina historian Allen Trelease as the “terrorist arm of the Democratic Party,” while historian Eric Foner of Columbia University calls the Klan “a military force serving the interests of the Democratic Party.”
For decades your party gave free rein to the Klan and its rabid, racist violence. In 1924 the Klan ran your Democratic Convention in New York’s Madison Square Garden, known to history as the “Klan bake” convention. Time and time and time again your party selected Klan members to represent it in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House as well as state governorships and all manner of local officials.
Your party used this support to win the congressional power that passed everything from the creation of the Federal Reserve to Social Security. One of the latter’s notable supporters, in fact, was Mississippi’s Senator Theodore Bilbo, a proud supporter of Social Security who boasted of his membership in the Klan.
One troubling sign of just how close was your party’s relationship with the Klan was President Franklin Roosevelt’s appointment of Alabama’s liberal New Deal Senator Hugo Black to the Supreme Court. Black held a “golden passport” — aka a lifetime membership in the Klan. Decades later, in 1968, Justice Black wrote:
President Roosevelt… told me there was no reason for my worrying about my having been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. He said some of his best friends and supporters he had in the state of Georgia were among members of the organization. He never in any way, by word or attitude, indicated any doubt about my having been in the Klan nor did he indicate any criticism of me for having been a member of that organization.
Black was far from alone with his Klan connections in your party. The notorious Eugene “Bull” Connor, the Birmingham, Alabama Public Safety Commissioner who unleashed both police dogs and fire hoses on civil rights protesters in 1963, was both a Klan member and a member of your Democratic National Committee. There isn’t enough space to list the elected leaders of your party who served under the hoods of the Klan and supported the savage violence inflicted on black Americans for decades.
From the rabidly segregationist President Woodrow Wilson (who showcased the pro-Klan Birth of a Nation film in the White House and also made certain his segregationist and progressive Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels segregated the Navy) to other prominent Democrats, your party has been the home of those who use race to win elections and make public policy. Senators with names like South Carolina’s James F. Byrnes (also an FDR Court appointee and Truman’s Secretary of State) or Georgia’s powerful Richard Russell — who created the federal school lunch program and whose name, thanks to the Democratic Senate Majority in 1972 graces the Senate’s Russell Senate Office Building — were typical of the honored roles bestowed on the rawest of racists by your party. Russell played the anti-black race card and used it to create a lunch program for kids. How nice.
The real damage done by your party with its culture of race and violence has been to create exactly the climate in which the Dylann Roofs of America feel they can operate. Note well that the roommate of the Charleston killer said that Roof was a “segregationist” — which is to say he was precisely emulating the culture that your party has spent two centuries creating and celebrating.
Isn’t it time for your party to finally apologize for all of this horrendous behavior that your party is directly responsible for? Isn’t it time for the Democratic Party to finally own up and apologize to black Americans?
Suddenly there is much talk about removing Confederate flags from this or that state capitol where politicians of your party — like South Carolina’s then-governor Ernest “Fritz” Hollings — placed them in the first place. Now talk is abroad about removing statues of “Confederates” — meaning prominent Democrats — from the U.S. Capitol and some state capitols. The statue of Democrat Jefferson Davis — the ex-president of the Confederacy who also served as a Democratic Congressman, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of War in a Democratic administration — has been mentioned for possible removal from its place in Kentucky’s state capitol.
Interesting. A growing mass call to remove the names of one prominent Democrat after another from the public square. One has to ask? Is it time to rename the Woodrow Wilson Bridge that crosses the Potomac from Virginia to Washington, the latter a majority black city? If so, may I suggest the name of Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first black U.S. Senator — in 1870? Oh yes, Senator Revels was also a Republican.
Calls for slavery “reparations” are occasionally heard. And in the spirit of Charleston perhaps the question should be asked directly of you as Chair of the Democratic Party.
Will the Democratic Party itself pay reparations to black Americans? Reparations for those party platforms that supported slavery? Not to mention for passing all those segregationist laws that were deliberately designed to evade the 14th and 15th amendments of the Constitution? Reparations for using the Ku Klux Klan as the “terrorist arm of the Democratic Party” — with that terror directly targeting black Americans?
You, Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz, along with President Obama and former Secretary Clinton, talk of what happened in Charleston by mentioning the need to discuss “race bigotry and violence” (you), or saying of racism that “societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior” (President Obama) or calling the Charleston attack “an act of racist terror” (Secretary Clinton). But somehow you never get around to saying just who was doing all of this — your political party. The Democrats.
In fact, as I noted here in 2008, the Democratic National Committee — on the eve of the Obama nomination — went out of its way to deliberately erase a full fifty years of Democratic Party history from the official DNC website. What was erased? All reference to your party’s role in slavery, segregation, lynching, and the rest. Those platforms that supported slavery, mentioned above? The number of Democrats who occupied the White House while owning slaves? The platforms that supported segregation — and the Democratic presidents, senators, governors and more who supported segregation? The tie between Democrats and the Klan? All of this and more was simply gone from your website — deliberately and willfully hidden from voters while trying to leave the impression that your party was a historically enthusiastic supporter of civil rights. Which, to understate, is not true.
Amid all the tragedy of Charleston, I would suggest that it is finally time for the Democratic Party — the party you chair — to come forward and admit its role in this long-running national horror. It’s time — way, way past time — for an apology. An apology directly from the leaders of the Democratic Party to black Americans, not to mention the rest of the country, for what your party has done.
And instead of raising all those millions for the next election? How about raising some millions from all your rich donors to pay black Americans for the damage you have done to them since the inception of your slavery/segregation and race-based party in 1800?
Damage that has now, yet again, brought violence and tragedy from someone inspired by your ugly history. It would seem, at a minimum, that now is the time to apologize for — instead of ignore or hide — that history.
Thanks for your attention.