April 8th, 2010 | By Sonnie Johnson
If I were petty and racially-driven, I would be upset with my Virginia Governor Bob McDonell. His decision to call April Confederate History Month has sparked anger with Black Democrats across the state. Black Republicans within the state are now scrambling to answer calls of “Uncle Tom” and “Traitor”. As the newly named President of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Virginia, I am left looking at this as an opportunity.
Ironically, a couple weeks ago at the Frederick Douglass Foundation Leadership Summit, I got to ask Va Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli a question on this very topic. I pointed out the rather large Robert E. Lee Statue is celebrated in Richmond as a part of Democratic History in Va. I asked the Attorney General when will we start to celebrate Virginia’s Republican History? I contrasted the Robert E. Lee Statue against the Maggie Walker House and the former Black Wall Street only a few blocks away.
He gave the best non-answer a person can give, he plainly stated he didn’t know about the History of which I spoke. O.K. I’m giving him to much credit. He rambled on and on until it was plain to see he couldn’t answer my question because he didn’t know the History of which I spoke. Yet, I held no ill will. It would be like inviting me to a fancy dinner and asking me to point out the salad fork, not going to happen.
Most of the Black Residents of Virginia don’t know the Republican History in this State. Since most of that History is centered around Blacks, maybe we can play a little game. April is Confederate History Month, where we learn how Virginia Democrats seceded from the Union to keep their slaves and May can be Reconstruction History Month, where we learn what Black Republicans did during that time period to enhance Va culture, education, and financial freedom.
We all know the name Langston Hughes but very few know the name, John Mercer Langston. He was the famous poets Great Uncle and one of the first Black Republicans to obtain a United States Congressional Seat. Since this happened after the Civil War, it won’t be celebrated by McDonnell’s little proclamation. And there in lies the problem. We give the preception of celebrating Southern History with Southern Pride, yet we leave out Southerners of color who stayed to improve the conditions of the newly freed slaves.
So, my question is “Why celebrate and give notice to the Democratic Legacy in Virginia, if you are a Republican Governor?” Where is your Republican Southern Pride? Now, I can understand why White Republicans don’t officially go after the Black Population. I’ll give credit to McDonnell. He had multiple Black Republicans working on and supporting his campaign but did he stop to think how this decision would affect them?
Before I follow the racial path and shout, “Don’t these White Republicans know what us Black Republicans have to go through just to represent our party,” I’ll instead offer a different point of view for the Republicans in power. If you don’t know how to communicate with the black community, then how about reaching out to the young Conservatives on College Campuses?
Maybe you can point out how Hampton University started with classes under an Oak Tree by a single teacher, Mary Smith Peake. Explain how, under Union protection as “Contraband”, free blacks flocked to Republican Strongholds for Safety and Education. Enlighten Virginians on how Rich and Affluent Republicans gave huge donations that turned that tree into an Emancipation Oak. Then that Emancipation Oak into a little brown cottage. Then that little brown cottage into Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and now it’s Hampton University, a proud HBCU. Just for kicks, add the fact that Booker T. Washington, an abolitionist entrenched in the Republican Reconstruction graduated from Hampton University.
Since I brought up John Mercer Langston earlier, let’s see what we can say to college students at Virginia State University. Let me bring up another name most Virginians, black or white, don’t know; Robert Russa Moton.
The next morning I asked my father about the school for coloured people, which was being projected under the influence of General Mahone at Petersburg, now a State Normal School. He told me much about it. It was to open the following fall. The Hon. John M. Langston, he said, a coloured man who was as well educated as any white person that he knew of, was to be the president. He said I might go if I wished and that he would do what he could to help me. It being a state school, and he having certain strong friends in the Republican Party (General Mahone among them), Hon. B.S. Hooper, a member of Congress from the Fourth Congressional District of Virginia, would probably arrange for me to have a scholarship.”
When VSU was still Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, blacks seeked out Republicans to help them aquire an education. No wonder J. W. Langston became the schools first President. You know, the same man who broke Virginia’s racial lines to become an elected official. Because of Republican efforts in education, Robert Russa Moton was able to follow in Booker T. Washington’s footsteps to become Principal of the Tuskegee Institute.
We can stop by Virginia Union University. We can show how Religious Groups, along with the Republican Party, stood up to Virginia Democrats to teach released slaves about their heritage. Slavery had ripped the titles Father, Mother, and Family from the black vernacular and VUU played an important role in returning the family unit. Then we can go to St. Paul’s College and Norfolk State. Same message for every school, the Republican Party has played a major role in establishing some of the most prominent colleges in Va.
So why is Confederate History Month so important? Who is McDonnell really trying to impress with this edict of respect? This is my only problem with Reaganomics. It leads modern day conservatives to believe the Republican Party started with Ronald Reagan. What about Carter Woodson, Sojournor Truth, and how many more that held the Republican label as a badge of Honor long before the Cold War. Is there any importance in this History, while you are picking and choosing which History to celebrate?
This whole mess has presented me with the answer to a long held question. Why is the Republican Party unable to connect with the Black Community? I’m convinced I’ve come up with an answer. Most Republicans don’t know the full extent of Republican History, as demonstrated by my Attonery Generals’ lack of an answer, and most Blacks don’t know the full realm of Black History, as evident by the majority of Black Citizens assuming Democrats have their best wishes at heart. If both groups would brush up on their History, they would realize it’s one in the same. You can’t celebrate the Republican Party without Blacks and you can’t celebrate Black History without Republicans.
With all that being said and as a precursor to insults and judgements sure to be hurled my way, I offer this bit of solace. I am a Revolutionary, not a reactionary. I won’t accept Foodstamps as a solution to poverty because Bob McDonnell wants to celebrate the Confederacy. I won’t accept Obamacare because he didn’t mention slavery in his declaration. I will not be led by the collar on the basis of race by either party. Instead I will do what those great black Republicans did before me and make a way when elements on both sides are praying for my downfall.