A Dishonest Rewriting of Democratic Racist History

Our nation will never move past racial division while the media refuse to acknowledge the Democratic Party's ugly past.

Ku Klux Klan meeting in Chicago, c. 1920.

By Steve Berman Published on February 12, 2017

The media is doing a terrible disservice to U.S. history, race relations, and the Democratic Party by dishonestly papering over the Democrats’ racist history. The Washington Post, in particular, engaged in this to make political hay and to criticize Sen. Ted Cruz.

 The article began:

The day after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was rebuked while making a speech critical of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Sen. Ted Cruz blasted Democrats, saying their party is the one rooted in racism.

“The Democrats are the party of the Ku Klux Klan,” Cruz (R-Tex.) said in an interview on Fox News on Wednesday. “You look at the most racist — you look at the Dixiecrats, they were Democrats who imposed segregation, imposed Jim Crow laws, who founded the Klan. The Klan was founded by a great many Democrats.”

Cruz isn’t the first Republican to associate Democrats with the Ku Klux Klan.

I’m going to stop there, and remind us all of some history.

A Dark Moment in Georgia

One of the darkest moments of Georgia history occurred on November 25, 1915. A local granite contractor, Sam Venable, was the owner of Stone Mountain, west of Atlanta. He joined a group of 40 men led by “Colonel” William J. Simmons, that included the speaker of the Georgia House, on a trek to the summit.

What happened there is a matter of historical record

Under Simmons’ direction, the fifteen shivering men gathered stones to build a base for the cross of pine boards he had brought up earlier that day, and a crude altar upon which he laid an American flag, an open Bible, an unsheathed sword, and a canteen of water. They put on the bed-sheet robes and pointed mask caps and then gather around in a semi-circle as Simmons touched a match to the kerosene-soaked cross, the dancing light of the win-blown flames creating an eerie backdrop for the ceremony. With practiced oratory he then called forth the Invisible Empire from its slumber of nearly half a century.1

A week later, the silent film The Birth of a Nation opened in Atlanta. The film portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a rather heroic light, and portrayed black men “as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women.” Atlanta newspapers ran an announcement of “The World’s Greatest Secret, Social, Patriotic, Fraternal, Beneficiary Order” next to advertisements for the movie.

The Old South and the Democratic Party

In those days, the South was ruled by a single party: the Democratic Party. The first Republican governor of Georgia since 1872 was Sonny Perdue (now nominated as Secretary of Agriculture). The first GOP senator since 1873 was Mack Mattingly in 1981, and he served just one term.

There is no doubt that Democrats led the South during the height of the KKK’s popularity. Yet Kristine Guerra of The Washington Post treated it like a political football and punted. “Cruz isn’t the first Republican to associate Democrats with the Ku Klux Klan,” she wrote.

Guerra’s entire piece was crafted to refute what Cruz said to Fox News, which is irrefutable. So she dug to find something she could refute, and tied it to Cruz.

She then spent eight paragraphs responding to a 2013 remark by Virginia state Sen. Stephen Martin, who said the Democratic Party created the KKK, for which he later apologized and retracted. The entire piece was crafted to refute what Cruz said to Fox News, which is irrefutable. So Guerra dug to find something she could refute, and tied it to Cruz. If that’s not dishonest reporting, then dishonest reporting isn’t a “thing” anymore.

In her specious argument, she quoted Carole Emberton, “an associate professor of history at the University of Buffalo,” attributing the quote to PolitiFact. Possibly she was too lazy to get her own quote, so she just Googled it from another left-leaning media source. Guerra wrote that Emberton said party lines of the 1860s and 1870s “are not the party lines of today.”

Guerra added, “By the 1960s, the Democratic Party was becoming the party of the civil rights movement.” That line was not a quote from Emberton or anyone. It was the reporter misstating the facts, badly.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, although supported by President Lyndon Johnson, was filibustered for 54 days, with South Carolina Democrat Strom Thurmond leading the opposition. That forced a bipartisan group of senators to introduce a substitute bill to gain enough votes for cloture. The filibuster continued, ultimately taking up 60 legislative days to overcome. Only eight southern Democrats voted for the bill in the House, and one in the Senate.

(To be fair, southern legislators of both parties voted against the legislation. But southern Democrats voted 107 against — in both houses — to Republicans’ 11.)

It is obvious that Democrats did not “become the party of the civil rights movement” by the 1960s.

The Press Must Acknowledge Democrats’ Ugly Racist History

After her major detour through rewritten history, Guerra finally returned to Cruz and the context of his remarks, which is Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s citing of 30-year-old accusations of racism against newly-confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Guerra opposed the Senate’s decision to bar Warren from speaking after she violated Rule 19 by impugning another senator from the floor. Apparently, Democrats get a pass for 100 years of blatant and open racism, with some of those senators serving into the 2010s. But remarks made by the late Ted Kennedy and Coretta Scott King in the 1980s are to be held against Sessions. 

How can our nation ever be expected to move past racial division when the press won’t acknowledge the Democrats’ ugly history, yet dishonestly smear Ted Cruz, and prop up Liz Warren?

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  • Paul

    You expect honest reporting? LOL

  • Joe

    The media needs to take a stand; let everyone know that the real problem is Southern white Christian men.

    • Dean Bruckner

      /sarc?

  • m flight

    Let’s not forget the Democrats were the party of slavery. Let’s not forget Andrew Jackson (Democrat) and the trail of tears. Or “progressive” Democrat Woodrow Wilson approvingly screening Birth of a Nation in the White House. Let’s move forward to Harry Reid describing Presidential candidate Barrack Obama as a black candidate who could be successful thanks, in part, to his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” The Democratic party has always treated African Americans as “less than”. Before, they were property and now they are just a voting block to keep them in power. Inner city public schools are the new plantation. A long, sad history of Democrats/Progressives exploiting Blacks for political and financial gain.

    • Sluggo Pyle

      Actually Jackson ran for office (three times) without a political party. That would be developed later (1834 specifically) by his protegé and successor Martin van Buren. Wilson was a racist a-hole to be sure but there’s zero evidence he “approvingly screened” Birth of a Nation. That myth was invented in the late 1930s. And just to continue further “dialect” has nothing to do with “race”; the statement is entirely about marketability. Racism isn’t about “marketability”; it’s about a belief that one race is inferior to another.

  • What a great article! Thank you! It goes so much farther than that, too. Why were all the landmark school desegregation lawsuits about schools in California and Massachusetts? Why do race-related riots occur in California, Illinois, Maryland, and other “Union” or Northern states? Our nation cannot heal as long as the media makes the South the symptom bearer, when the North, Northeast, Midwest, and Western states practiced Apartheid until the 1980s (no typo – that is nineteen eighties), when they were finally forced to allow people of color to live in their neighborhoods. Chicago invented “Racial Restrictive Covenants”, and the US government refused to enforce against them – even though they were used from Washington DC all the way across the country to San Francisco CA and Seattle Washington.

    While the South made amends for slavery a hundred years ago, and has been integrated and pretty much color-blind since the 1960s, the North and West still reflect their ugly heritage of exclusion in the nation’s most segregated cities.

    The worst examples of racism and discrimination are things like California-based Facebook getting caught allowing real estate/rental advertisers to hide their ads from black people or people of other races – and getting a pass for it. The US Attorney General’s Civil Rights group should have been outside their doors with warrants the next day. Instead, Facebook said “oops” and went their merry way. Facebook and Google both have horrible records when it comes to hiring diversity. In 2013, Facebook couldn’t find but 7 Black people to hire – worldwide! And that was an improvement over the previous year, Why do West Coast companies refuse to hire Black Americans, but get on their high horses about enforcing immigration law?

  • Nels

    Dems are the real racists. Yes, it’s true, yes, everyone knows that, and NO, IT DOESN’T MATTER!

    This has never worked before, so obviously it will work this time, because … mumble mumble mumble.

    Stop saying that dems are the real racists. Start attacking the dems. Look at the dem’s tactics, and adopt them. Ask the libs why they hate white people. Ask them why the DNC still has white people on it. Be illogical, inconsistent and vicious in your attacks. Just don’t say that they are the real racists. That one is proven not to work.

  • JOE

    The Southern democrats were the conservatives at that time.
    The South has always been anti progress of any kind and the most racist part of the country.
    When the South went republican, the northern and west coast states went democrat.

  • Sluggo Pyle

    This trainwreck of a teaser-pseudoarticle fails to point out that Cruz is wrong, that both the original Klan founders (Crowe, Jones, Kennedy, Lester, McCord and Reed) and the one founded by Simmons above, were explicitly nonpolitical, that there was no known political affiliation history for ANY of them, and that at the time and place of the original Klan’s founding — 1865 Tennessee — political parties didn’t even exist.

    It also apparently doesn’t want to delve into the inconvenient facts of Clarence Morley, Ed Jackson, Rice Means, George Luis Baker, Ben Paulen, Owen Brewster and four-fifths of the city council of Anaheim all elected (Governors, a Senator and a Mayor) as Republicans with overt Klan support, just as it doesn’t care to examine the Klan opposition to its vocal Democrat opponents like Jack Walton, Oscar Underwood, Stetson Kennedy, Huey Long, Ellis Arnall (who revoked the Klan’s charter), John W. Davis and Al Smith, against whom it ran a vicious national smear campaign because he was a Catholic, while publicly endorsing Herbert Hoover and before him, Calvin Coolidge, the only major candidate of that year who declined to denounce the Klan.

    Let alone the sordid tale of D.C. Stephenson and the Republican power structure of Indiana and what he did to Marge Oberholtzer.

    And it apparently can’t touch the similarly inconvenient fact that the Klan’s targets of Blacks, Jews, Catholics, immigrants and labor unions were and are constituents of the Democratic Party.

    Because to mention any of this would then bring up the logical question of why a “Democratic” organization would be deliberately running candidates against its own and going out lynching and intimidating its own voters. And that would be where this house of cards collapses.

    Looks like this author might be advised to spend more time in front of a history book and less at a Burger King table.

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