I’m a Frederick Douglass Republican

Bonnie Willis's picture

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend the Fayette County Republican Party’s monthly breakfast meeting. This event is held on the first Saturday of the month at the IHOP in Fayetteville.

Normally, I am unable to attend these meetings as my kids usually have soccer or softball games. But with the sports season over, I was able to go, and I was so glad I did.

For, I had the opportunity to listen, first-hand, to the founder of the Frederick Douglass Republicans movement — K. Carl Smith.

Mr. Smith attended the breakfast in an effort to encourage members of the Republican Party with the message of Frederick Douglass — who, many argue, was the grandfather of the civil rights movement.

Frederick Douglass, for the first 20 years of his life, was a slave. And he went on to become one of the most prodigious social reformers, orators, writers, and influential thinkers of his time. He was also an admirer of the U.S. Constitution, our Founding Fathers, and a self-professed Republican.

While I knew that up until the late 1960s African Americans were predominantly Republicans, there were two things that I did not understand, in this regard, until I listened to Mr. Smith’s presentation and began reading his book, “Frederick Douglass Republicans: The Movement to Re-ignite America’s Passion for Liberty.”

The first thing I did not understand was why so many African Americans identified themselves with being Republicans back then.

The answer came with the recognition of the principles that identified the Party — principles which resonated with a proud and hopeful people, who struggled to be recognized as part of “We the People.”

These principles include a deep, abiding respect for our country’s founding, and documents, the forefathers, the rule of law, a respect for life in all its forms, from conception to old age, from men to women, and from slave to free; limited government that would simply “protect” the people, rather than “provide” for them in a dependent relationship, and a desire for self-determination.

These principles manifested themselves in how many Republicans championed legislative and civil causes such as the abolition of slavery, segregation, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement, facts that are well chronicled in Mr. Smith’s book.

The fact that Douglas stood as a former slave and passionately heralded each of these principles, while promoting love and forgiveness, even to his former slave owner, is a powerful juxtaposition to some of today’s leaders who seem to feed on feelings of resentment and race-bait on virtually every occasion.

The second thing I did not understand concerning the relationship of African Americans with the Republican Party is what happened that caused the shift in political affiliation which has resulted in many African Americans having an almost instinctual animosity for the Republican Party.

For this answer, Mr. Smith’s personal “conversion” experience was probably most helpful.

Mr. Smith describes growing up with the self-understanding of being black, a Christian, and a Democrat. He recalls the powerful image of Martin Luther King, Jr. standing in the center of President Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, solidifying in his mind — and probably many other African Americans of his generation — that Democrats were good and fighting for equal rights.

Despite the fact that Republicans led both acts through Congress, and historically fought for legislation that championed equal rights, the shift began.

When the Democrat Party recognized the shift in culture, it began to strategically disassociate itself from its pro-slavery, pro-segregation [past], and ties to the KKK history, and began promoting itself as the freedom party. This history is also chronicled in Mr. Smith’s book.

So successful was this PR campaign that when I spoke to an elderly man who remembered these days, he shared his theory that all the racist Democrats of that period switched political affiliation and became Republicans.

In the end, Mr. Smith expressed the belief that today’s national Republican Party leaders appear to have strayed from the principled positions of their predecessors, which may be why so many people can believe the false narratives purported about the party.

However, Mr. Smith also expressed hope in that he felt the key to saving our nation was for local groups like our own Fayette County Republican Party to demonstrate the Republican principles expressed, and epitomized by Frederick Douglass, who stands not simply as a black leader, but as an American leader.

As such, anyone, regardless of race, who believes in these principles, can stand with me and proudly say, “I am a Frederick Douglass Republican!”

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]

S. Lindsey
S. Lindsey's picture
Joined: 12/31/2008
Aww now Bonnie...

You know those racist Democrats that fought the Civil Rights movement actually morphed into Republicans and the Civil Rights Republicans became the Democrats. At least that is what the professional agitators tell everyone, as soon as, this subject is broached.

You know it was that Southern Strategy but it was perpetrated by Republicans morphing into Democrats that did it..

Bonnie Willis wrote:

So successful was this PR campaign that when I spoke to an elderly man who remembered these days, he shared his theory that all the racist Democrats of that period switched political affiliation and became Republicans

Oh we know... We have our own Racial expert right here that tells us this same claptrap almost daily.

Funny how when asked to show just ONE democrat that voted against the "64" Civil Rights Act that changed Party affiliations and voted Republican they just seem to move on to another topic... Well, that is, after they call me a Racist.

Some would rather believe a Lie then deal with the fact that they have been lied to. I guess they feel better about that decision.

stranger than f...
stranger than fiction's picture
Joined: 06/27/2012
Strom Thurmond Switched parties in 1964 Mr. Lindsey

Mr. Lindsey wrote:

"Funny how when asked to show just ONE democrat that voted against the "64" Civil Rights Act that changed Party affiliations and voted Republican they just seem to move on to another topic... Well, that is, after they call me a Racist."

In September, 1964 Strom Thurmond (U.S. Senator from South Carolina) switched party affiliation from Democrat to Republican because of LBJ's civil rights legislation.

Why do you continue to raise this point? It has been answered before on this blog.

S. Lindsey
S. Lindsey's picture
Joined: 12/31/2008

You are correct he was the ONLY one that did... This was the point and he did it against the Republican Party wishes...

That's the whole point... Many race baiters point to Thurman as proof just like you did that the myth is true...You see it is a bit of a trap... Thanks for playing... because you have to actually look it up then viola you discover that all of those Democrats STAYED Democrats. You see I asked that question yet only you have ever answered...now that was stranger then fiction.

DM, yours and many other's assertions is that the Racist Democrats, you know the ones that voted AGAINST the "64" Civil Rights Act, that the REPUBLICANS were pushing somehow morphed into Republicans and the Republicans that fought for the Act became Democrats.

I keep asking for that list yet only one is ever found.. Funny that.

vortex100's picture
Joined: 07/04/2012
Jess Helms also switched.

Jesse Helms started as a Democrat, very much opposed the Civil Rights Act, and switched to the Republican Party in 1970. See the details here:
There were also many more:

Now there are at least 2. You are not telling the truth Mr. Lindsey. Funny that.

S. Lindsey
S. Lindsey's picture
Joined: 12/31/2008

Wow... that is a bit of a stretch... Now vortex you have actually done a little work.

Yes Dems and Reps have changed parties over and over... BUT the key issue here is this.. Did the Democrats that voted AGAINST the 64/65 Civil Rights act all switch parties and became Republicans...AND...did the Republicans that fought FOR the 64/65 Act switch to the Democrats?

These are the assertions of the Left and the Black Community...

Now that you have done a modicum of research, something I have been trying to get those that make this statement to do btw, can you still state that this in fact happened?

Oh and btw- The issue is those that voted AGAINST the 64/65 act not just switching in general... So your "wiki" link is obfuscation at best lazy at worst. I mean wikipedia as a source.. one that can be edited by anyone...even you?

AtHomeGym's picture
Joined: 01/18/2007
Vortex & Helms

Well gee, fact is, most North Carolinians in those days started as Dems but most all lived a conservative lifestyle. I know, I was there. The first Republican my Father ever voted for was Richard Nixon! And we had black tenants coming to our door every weekend to borrow money from my Overseer Father! And some even came to the Front door--imagine that!

Spyglass's picture
Joined: 01/28/2008
Republicans passed the original version by a higher percentage

Than Democrats in the house. Same with the Senate version and same again in the Final version.

aliquando's picture
Joined: 01/03/2007
Great writing.

I agree with you 100%. But I am more in the aisle of G.W. Carver. I teach science.

Davids mom
Davids mom's picture
Joined: 10/30/2005
Mrs. Willis

Thanks for sharing your philosophy. I'm a Booker T. Washington fan. I teach children and adults. (and BTW was a great supporter of G.W. Carver. African Americans stand on the shoulders of all three of these great teachers.) Frederick Douglas identified the ugliness in separatism; addressed it; and moved our country along the road to justice and equality for all Americans.

S. Lindsey
S. Lindsey's picture
Joined: 12/31/2008
On this we agree..

phi·los·o·phy [ fi lóssəfee ]
examination of basic concepts: the branch of knowledge or academic study devoted to the systematic examination of basic concepts such as truth, existence, reality, causality, and freedom

Truth is easy to see if One looks with open eyes...

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