Articles

Black Republicans: They Exist(ed)


– [Azie] What do Maxine Waters,
Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Condoleezza Rice, Ben
Carson, Barack Obama, and all of these people have in common? – I mean, they’re Black. – Huh, what? – Black, they’re all Black politicians. – Whether it’s a hotly
contested gubernatorial race or a symbolically strategized
bid for president, across party lines there are
more Black people running for and holding political
office than ever before. – Now, we don’t need to know who you’re voting for, but we are curious about your favorite
candidate’s predecessors, literally the first to ever do it, and how the end of the
Civil War meant the start of Black people in US government. – Why are you whispering? (funky instrumental music) I think we all kind of
have an understanding of the American Civil War, right? – Hey, shout out to Mr.
Smith, third period. – Mr. Smith probably
taught you the basics: Union/Confederacy,
North/South, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. – It changed the legal status of people in certain states from enslaved to free. And we’re not talking a
couple folks here and there. We’re talking almost four million people. Now, what do you do
with four million people who used to be considered property? Are they, like, citizens now? Where do they work, where
can they live, go to school? How do you even attempt to keep them safe? – The time period after the Civil War is called Reconstruction, and part of rebuilding the nation was helping freed people start a new life. So in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln established the Freedmen’s Bureau. (telephone ringing)
– Freedmen’s Bureau Hotline, how can I assist you today? – Good day, my bride and I
have already jumped the broom, but we’d like to be legally married. – Aw, congratulations. (telephone ringing)
Oh, you want us to do that? All right, please hold. Hey, we got a wedding planner? – [Woman] I think that’s line seven now. (telephone ringing) – Freedmen’s Bureau Hotline. – Yes, I’d really like to
connect with my mother. – All right, well, Family
Communication Services can help you, when was the
last time you saw your mother? – Well, about 30 years ago. I was three years old and they sold me, and I haven’t seen her since
they came to take me away. – Um, sure, um, I’ll transfer you now. It’s one of those days. (telephone ringing) – Freedmen’s Bureau Hotline. – Yes, I’m trying to find a doctor who will treat me and my family. – Um, where are you located, ma’am? – Hold on.
(child yelling) Josiah, hush, I’m on the phone. I’m in Mississippi. – Oh, baby, you’re not, I’m sorry. Please hold while I page
our Northern Doctor Network. – You got train money? (telephone ringing) – What?
– Howdy, yes, ma’am. Now, what is all this I’m
hearing about us being free? – You must be from Texas,
yep, you’re free now. Happy Juneteenth, okay, bye-bye. – In the middle of all this chaos, free Black people took
this as an opportunity to do something pretty bold:
run for political office. – They did participate in politics prior to Reconstruction, though. There are court cases
where people petitioned for their freedom as early as 1781. But freedom did not equal citizenship. Until the 14th Amendment
passed during the Civil War, free Black people were
considered illegal aliens. So becoming a US senator,
impossible, until now. – Though most offices
were technically held at the local level, like a sheriff, the change was still hugely significant. In 1867, no African American
held office in the South. But in a couple years, they made up about 15% of all Southern office holders. The reason for this? The Republican party pretty
much took over the South after the war and elected Black men. – So I’m gonna say this in the
most unbiased way possible. Republican?
– Ah, you probably don’t remember this from your
seventh grade history class. For a few years after the Civil War, Republican politics were a
vehicle for social change and political empowerment,
focusing on social and economic development. But things slowly changed
when tensions arose between newly enfranchised freedmen, Northern carpet baggers,
and Southern white folks, which meant that, during Reconstruction, the GOP had to broaden its appeal. – Got it, so Republicans led the charge in electing Black politicians. Well, we did some
digging to find more info about who these guys were. They came from different backgrounds, but all went on to do
groundbreaking stuff. Some were free long before
the war, like Hiram Revels. Born in North Carolina
to free people of color, he received formal education,
spent his adulthood as a minister throughout
the Midwest, and in 1870, became the first Black US
senator representing Mississippi. There’s Josiah Walls, who
was born into slavery, forced to fight in the Confederacy with his master, captured
by Union soldiers, and eventually discharged and emancipated, to go from slavery to being the first Black congressman from Florida? – Okay, and Josiah’s low-key cute. If any of his descendants are watching. – Focus.
– I mean, have you seen these guys, even the ones with, like, the Wolverine sideburns,
I can work with that. – Some of them had left
the United States entirely, like Mifflin Gibbs, who moved to Canada, and Thomas Chester, who spent
time in Liberia and England. They returned with hopes that
things were gonna get better. Gibbs became a municipal judge
in Little Rock, Arkansas, the first in US history,
and Chester was appointed as district superintendent in Louisiana. – So given the history,
all of this was huge. Holding political office
was a way for Black people to solve problems in their communities and society as a whole. In the indelible words
of Southern rapper T.I., big things poppin’! – These Reconstruction-era
politicians opened the door for so many others,
even if it took a while. There’s Barbara Jordan, the
first Black person elected to the Texas Senate since 1883, and the first woman to do so. – You got former U.S.
Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, the
first to hold that position. And we gotta throw it
back to Shirley Chisolm, first Black woman elected to Congress, and the first Black woman to run for president of the United States. – Speaking of presidents, the
44th one also makes the list. – And sure, we just shouted out a bunch of these firsts, but make no mistake, progress isn’t one-dimensional or linear. We just think it’s cool to learn more about these forefathers,
because if a mixed guy from North Carolina can become a senator, maybe a mixed guy from Hawaii can, too. – Without outspoken congressmen
ready to risk it all in 1865, maybe this
outspoken congresswoman wouldn’t be making headlines in 2019. – The opportunity.
– Reclaiming my time. When you’re on my time, I can reclaim it. He left that out, so
I’m reclaiming my time. Please, will you respond to the question? – When you take a look at US history and then current events,
lots of decisions made during Reconstruction end up
impacting all of us today. What if formerly enslaved
people did receive reparations? The whole 40 acres and a mule? How would that have changed the landscape of American towns and cities? Then there’s the Black Codes, the laws that Southern states passed post-Emancipation Proclamation. Those laws set the precedent for what is now the prison labor force. – The 15th amendment was
so 1870s, but voter rights are still in question today. It’s like, ever since we
got the right to vote, they’ve been trying to
limit our access to voting. In fact, the South taking back the vote from black citizens is
what led to us losing all the initial gains we
made during Reconstruction, gains we wouldn’t get back
until 100 years later, the Civil Rights Movement, and what’s called the
Second Reconstruction. Black politicians obviously
have their own agendas and values, sometimes you vibe with ’em, and sometimes you don’t. – And sometimes you read the news and you wanna throw the whole
thing away, that’s okay. What we can learn from these
Reconstruction-era politicians is the almost dumbfounding
resilience required to take up space within a government that couldn’t agree whether
owning people was bad. – And that is something to be proud of. If you could run for any office,
what would it be and why? – And if you’re interested
in learning more about Reconstruction and how
it still affects us today, check out the new Henry
Louis Gates, Jr. documentary, Reconstruction: America
After The Civil War, airing and streaming April 9th on PBS. Like, comment, subscribe,
follow us on social media, and we’ll see you in the next one. – [Both] Bye!
(funky instrumental music) (windchimes tinkling) (electronic chords)

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