GOP could learn lesson of inclusion from historic black Texan

06/28/2014 12:00 AM

06/27/2014 6:30 PM

Incumbent Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who trailed his feisty Tea Party challenger in the June 3 Republican primary, was able to pull out a victory in last week’s runoff election with a lot of help from unlikely supporters: black people.

In a moment I’ll tell you why the last-minute appeal to (mostly Democrat) black voters by a white Mississippi Republican reminds me of a time in Texas when black Republican leaders — one in particular — were reaching out to white people, only to be eventually sabotaged by them.

But first, realize that while the Republican establishment was pleased with the outcome of the Senate race in Mississippi, there are many, including Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel, yelling “foul” because of the support Cochran got from African Americans.

McDaniel, a state senator, has refused to concede, saying it wasn’t right for 35,000 to 45,000 Democrats to help decide a Republican primary, and he’s looking for irregularities in the election in order to challenge the outcome.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh spent much of the week denouncing the tactic used by Cochran. This is coming from man who organized “Operation Chaos” during the 2008 presidential campaign, in which he urged his mostly Republican listeners to vote in the Democratic primaries for Hillary Clinton as a way to deny Barack Obama the nomination from his party.

Rather than looking at Cochran’s victory as lesson in how to win elections by being inclusive, it seems the GOP right-wingers would prefer to keep the tent closed in one of the most racially divided states in the country.

Keep in mind that Mississippi, like Texas, has “open” primaries in which any qualified voter can cast a ballot for the party he or she chooses. In case of a runoff, people can vote for candidates in either party if they did not vote in the primary.

Still, folks are upset.

Again, I’m reminded of a time in Texas when blacks were very active in the Republican Party here, from the late 1800s through the 1940s, and when one man was a driving force in the GOP. That was before there was a coup by a group of racists who wanted make the party basically all-white and by legislators who wanted to deny blacks the right to vote.

William Madison “Gooseneck” McDonald is a legendary figure born in Kaufman County in 1866, one year and three days after emancipation was announced in Texas. This month marks the 148th anniversary of his birth.

Earlier this month I interviewed teacher/historian Jan Johnson about McDonald during a program at the Fort Worth Public Library sponsored by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. Johnson is the foremost expert on McDonald and is writing a book on his life.

Before moving to Fort Worth in 1906, where he established the first black bank in Texas, built the Jim Hotel downtown and was considered the state’s first black millionaire, McDonald had been active in the Republican Party. His bank survived the Depression.

Elected to the State Republican Executive Committee in 1892, he became chairman of the party in Texas in 1897 and worked to make the GOP more inclusive while leading its “Black and Tan” wing.

A group known as the “Lily White” Republicans wrestled the leadership away from him in 1900. With that and with laws passed by white Democrats in the Legislature to suppress the black vote — poll taxes and banning blacks from primaries — African American voter participation rapidly declined (from 100,000 in the 1890s to 5,000 by 1906).

McDonald became disenchanted with the party. He later voted for Democrats Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt.

Republicans in Mississippi, Texas and around the country could learn a few lessons by studying Gooseneck McDonald’s impressive history.

About Bob Ray Sanders

Bob Ray Sanders

@BobRaySanders

Bob Ray Sanders is often criticized for writing about things he could not have experienced because, some readers say, "he can't be that old." The truth is Bob Ray has been a professional journalist for 40 years and in three media: newspaper, television and radio.

A Fort Worth native who knows and cares about his community, and those with whom he shares this planet, this is a columnist who is not afraid to speak out on behalf of downtrodden people or the abused Earth.

Email Bob Ray at bobraysanders@star-telegram.com.

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