The transition from Barack Obama to Donald J. Trump provides a striking backdrop for engaging historians' renewed interest in black Republicanism. Joshua D. Farrington examines black Republican thought and action over the long twentieth century up to Ronald Reagan, illuminating critical moments of transition and struggle. The roots of black Republicanism, he argues, are located in civil rights and freedom struggles. Black Republicans, at least prior to the 1980s, were not tenuous outsiders to African American politics but had developed allegiances in an era when civil rights promotion was often equal between the two parties. Following in the spirit of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. they preached bipartisanship and avoided committing to any one party or other political entity. Rather than viewing black Republicans as “pawns of a hopelessly lily-white party, or as out-of-touch relics,” Farrington argues that they were pragmatic strategists, “savvy political operators who used their partisan affiliation to advance the goals of the civil rights movement” (p. 5). The heart of the book centers between the New Deal and the Nixon administration. Early opposition to the Roosevelt administration was often led by those who believed it harmful to African Americans; other black Republicans argued that alternative forms of civil rights progressivism existed that were not encapsulated in the Democratic party's agenda; still others embraced key features of the New Deal, such as the labor movement, and partnered with union leaders such as Randolph in support of fair employment in the 1940s. The Eisenhower years were a critical turning point—a moment when black Republicans found themselves increasingly frustrated with the agendas of the party, particularly as Dwight D. Eisenhower kept a distance from the systematic violence against civil rights activists in the South. The frustration continued with Richard M. Nixon, both the 1960 version and the presidential version. But Democrats offered no immediate panacea, and important examples of progressive black Republicanism, such as Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts, continued to fight for a greater voice in the party well into the 1970s. By then, the Republican party was actively attempting to distance itself from this old regime of black Republicans, and in Newt Gingrich's words, “invent new black leaders” (p. 224). Farrington's book is an important addition to the literature on twentieth-century partisan politics and history, and it compliments Leah Wright Rigueur's The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power (2015). Both books complicate our understandings of conservatism, each providing sophisticated and vibrant understandings of black political leaders. The ideological configuration of the black Republican cannot be summarized in a tweet, and blurs current day understandings of conservatism, liberalism, and civil rights progressivism. Both books are also excellent at showing the broader transformations in the Republican party on matters of race, without losing sight of the party of Abraham Lincoln's long-standing range of ambivalence, disinterest, and hostility to civil rights. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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