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. Lincoln,
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
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.
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
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
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"
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