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The Republican Party was formed in 1854 to oppose the westward expansion of slavery. Earlier that year, Midwesterners had organized en masse to protest the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed slavery in those territories, and within months the new antislavery party was formed.

Although the Republican Party had toned down its rhetoric concerning the slavery issue by the time of the 1860 election of President Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War established the party as the liberator of slaves, and won it the allegiance of the overwhelming majority of black Americans. President Abraham LincolnLincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation as a war measure and who said that he would retain slavery if it would save the Union, still earned the reputation as the great rescuer of African Americans. Republicans backed the Emancipation Proclamation and authored the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and encouraged black participation in Republican politics during Reconstruction.

The Radical Republicans, the liberal wing of the party whose main goal was to secure equal civil and political rights for blacks, largely shaped Reconstruction policy. Blacks gained voting and citizenship rights and played prominent roles in Reconstruction governments in the South as lieutenant governors, members of state legislatures, speakers of state houses of representatives, and secretaries of state. Between 1869 and 1901, 20 southern black Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives and two were elected to the U.S. Senate.

The Compromise of 1877, in which Republicans agreed to withdraw federal involvement in the government of Southern states in exchange for enough Southern electoral votes to retain a Republican presidency, ended Reconstruction. With the Republican presence effectively eliminated from the South, white southern Democrats worked to disfranchise black voters and enforce segregation. Between 1877 and 1901, white Democrats "redeemed" the South, a euphemism for eliminating black political and civil rights using various methods, including intimidation and violence. Black appeals to the Republican Party went largely unanswered.

President William McKinley, committed to sectional reconciliation, ignored the disfranchisement, segregation, lynching, and poverty suffered by blacks. The 1901 election of President Theodore Roosevelt brought together the progressive cause and the Republican Party.Booker T. Washington Roosevelt appointed blacks to federal positions, relied on black conservative educator Booker T. Washington as an adviser on racial issues, and publicly opposed lynching. During Roosevelt's second term, however, he alienated blacks by summarily discharging three companies of black soldiers who had been accused of refusing to inform on fellow soldiers charged with terrorizing the town of Brownsville, Texas. Roosevelt's successor, President William Howard Taft, was less committed to the progressive cause. Courting the support of Southern whites, Taft appointed no blacks to federal offices in the South, rendering unsuccessful his attempts to appeal to blacks by appointing them to diplomatic and consular offices.

A split between progressive and conservative Republicans occurred at this time, and throughout the 1920s, anti-labor Republicans in Congress and the White House worked to strengthen ties with Southern whites. Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge appointed few blacks to federal posts and failed to reverse the policy, initiated by Democrat Woodrow Wilson of segregation in the civil service. Despite increasing racial violence in the South, neither Harding nor Coolidge supported federal anti-lynching legislation.

The administration of President Herbert Hoover also sought white support at the expense of blacks. Hoover ignored racial violence and disfranchisement and appointed no more blacks to federal positions than had his predecessors. He further alienated blacks by appointing anti-black whites to federal positions and by insulting black Americans, as in his decision to segregate African Americans on a government-sponsored trip to the graves of American soldiers in Europe.

By the time of the Great Depression, African Americans were ready to switch allegiance to Democratic candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt's New Deal policies offered tangible economic benefits to blacks, and his appointees included numerous blacks who served as racial advisers and worked against discrimination in federal hiring practices and the distribution of relief benefits. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who supported racial equality by joining such interracial organizations as the Southern Conference for Human Welfare, which worked to organize unions in the South and replace reactionary Southern politicians, garnered considerable black support for Roosevelt. In the 1936 election, 71 percent of black voters supported Roosevelt.

Justice Thurgood MarshallAlthough they favored Democratic policies, most blacks remained registered as Republicans until the 1945-1952 administration of Harry S. Truman, whose Fair Deal attempted to continue the social programs of the New Deal. Although, the Republican Party enjoyed a brief resurgence of black support during Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration, achieving 39 percent of the black vote in 1952, the civil rights records of Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson won nearly unanimous black support. Furthermore, 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater's anti-civil rights position drove black membership in the Republican Party to eight percent, its lowest point ever.

In the following decades Republicans made only modest progress in attracting black voters. From 1968 through 1980 only 12 to 15 percent of blacks voted Republican. Efforts by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush to promote black conservatives had little impact on black Republican representation in elected office, but did result in Bush's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. By 1992, less than one percent of blacks serving in elective office were registered Republicans.


Congressional Black Caucus or CBC, is the coalition of black members of the United States Congress committed to promoting and protecting policies favorable to the African American community.

The South African human rights activist Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, "Politics is the art of the possible." But for most of America's first 251 years, politics and political participation were reserved for whites only. African Americans were prohibited from voting and from holding political office and, since most were enslaved before 1865, were punished for participating in public protest. It was not until Reconstruction (1865-1877) and in 1870 the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving black men the right to vote that political participation by blacks became legal. Even then, it was weakened by officially sanctioned racial discrimination.

During Reconstruction, 16 African Americans were elected to Congress and over 600 to state legislatures. But by 1877, many of the newly granted political rights were being rescinded by state officials. In the words of the white historian Eric Foner, "In illiteracy, malnutrition, inadequate housing, and a host of other burdens, blacks paid the highest price for the end of Reconstruction." It took 92 years for blacks to attain a measure of political representation in the U.S. Congress that was even close to nineteenth-century levels.

In 1969, the nine blacks then in Congress were isolated and powerless, unable to prevent passage of legislation detrimental to African Americans and other minorities. That year, Representative Charles Diggs, a black Democrat from Michigan, formed the Democratic Select Committee, in the belief that a unified black voice could exert a measure of political influence in Congress. The committee investigated the murders of several Black Panther Party members in Chicago, Illinois and defeated the nomination of conservative judge Clement Haynesworth to the Supreme Court. The potential strength of a collective black voice was immediately evident, and on June 18, 1971, at its first annual dinner, the Democratic Select Committee was reorganized as the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) with Representative Diggs as its first chairperson.

Reactions to the CBC were immediate, as disapproval and opposition came from both blacks and whites. Black conservatives challenged the caucus's presumption in representing the entire black community. White liberals discounted the caucus's political effectiveness, and white conservatives labeled caucus members radicals and militants. During a trip to Africa, Vice President Spiro Agnew derogated the caucus by advising its members to take notice of the behavior of their African brethren, adding that they could "learn much" from them.

Despite the opposition, the CBC gained national attention in 1971, when its members presented President Richard Nixon with a list of sixty recommendations concerning foreign and domestic issues. In 1972, the caucus was one of the sponsors of the National Black Political Convention held in Gary, Indiana. That year, at the Democratic Party's national convention, the caucus drafted the Black Declaration of Independence, which urged the Democratic Party to commit itself to effecting complete racial equality. It also drafted the Black Bill of Rights, demanding, among other things, full employment and an end to subversive American military activity in Africa.

In 1976, the caucus established the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a "nonprofit public policy, research, and educational institute," and later that year, established the Congressional Black Caucus Graduate Intern Program to increase the number of African American professionals working for congressional committees. One year later, the caucus formed TransAfrica, an organization that lobbied on behalf of African interests. The caucus and TransAfrica, under the leadership of Randall Robinson, worked actively to secure economic sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa, to help build political stability in Haiti, and to establish a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

During its existence, the Congressional Black Caucus was chaired by Representatives Charles Diggs (D-Mich.), Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), Ron Dellums (D-Calif.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), and Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.). As its membership grew, the caucus developed broad support among black state legislators, black businesses, and black academics. These contributed to the unprecedented 1992 election of 40 African Americans to Congress. In 1993, Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) became the fourth African American, and the first African American woman, to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Although the CBC was divided on issues like the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the organization's relationship with the Nation of Islam, it consistently provided a clear and unified African American voice on issues like crime, welfare and housing. The Congressional Black Caucus stood at the forefront of African American leadership in the U.S. Congress for 24, years before it was stripped of federal funding in 1994. At its pinnacle, the caucus wielded considerable political influence over many of the most important issues affecting the black community, the nation, and the world. Although the Congressional Black Caucus is no longer officially sponsored by Congress, its impact continues to be felt as its members remain actively involved in the formation of the nation's laws and policies.



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