Jim Neal

Riding the Democratic Donkey?

Filed By Jim Neal | January 03, 2008 11:15 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, civil rights, Democratic Party, Democrats, LGBT history, racism, segregation

A person with a wealth of experience as a Democratic insider recently told me that the political sophistication of black Americans underpinned the civil rights movement’s sensible decision to “ride the Democratic Donkey” toward securing freedoms for African Americans. I’ve thought about that comment and had a few afterthoughts:

  • The gentleman from Illinois who signed the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t riding anybody’s donkey. His starry-eyed idealism came at a price which few would argue, in hindsight, wasn’t worth the bloodshed that followed.
  • Rosa Parks, in Birmingham, Alabama, didn’t mount anyone’s donkey for transportation to the front of a segregated municipal bus. Her starry-eyed idealism has earned her a rightful place among this nation’s most revered heroines

  • On February 1, 1960 in my hometown of Greensboro NC, four young African-American students at AT&T University sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter on North Elm Street, just across the way from the Kress department store where my aunt Mildred worked. My younger brother Kelly was born that very day, about a mile further down Elm Street at Moses Cone Hospital. Kelly doesn’t remember that day, but my aunt does and so does everyone in my family. History was made, thanks to four starry-eyed idealists. They didn’t mount any donkeys en route to Woolworths; nor did anyone else who took a seat at that same lunch counter six months later, by which time Woolworths was serving both black and white patrons.
  • A donkey-riding president named Lyndon Baines Johnson forced through a donkey-riding Congress the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1967. LBJ’s starry-eyed idealism drove him to secure passage of legislation that he predicted would cost his party the “loss of the South for a generation.” That action on his part was, by comparison, a far more volatile legislative undertaking than we’ve witnessed of late over civil rights issues for the LGBT community. History has proven LBJ’s prediction about his party to be correct - because he did the courageous thing, not the politically-expedient thing. Martin Luther King certainly pressed the issue before LBJ, and Dr. King was hardly one who trumpeted the virtues of taking an instrumentalist approach to securing civil liberties for African-Americans.
  • The 1967 landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. VA (which overruled the anti-interracial marriage statutes in Virginia, Oklahoma, Delaware, Missouri and 12 other southern states) was a bold action taken by reasoned jurists. Their decision was unanimous: four of the justices were appointed by an elephant rider and the other five by donkey riders. Notwithstanding, such laws remained on the books of my state until 1976; Alabama was the last state to fall in 2000.

I’ve learned from those lessons of the past. I’ve chosen not to be held captive by conventional thinking.

I guess I’m an unreasonable man. So be it. I’m damned content with that moniker because it fits.

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chandler in lasvegas | January 3, 2008 2:38 PM

1] I think that calling Lincoln a starry-eyed idealist is rather prosaic but incorrect. He is seen more often as a resolved pragmatist. Jackson was more starry-eyed but his eye was on the Constitution and the Union. Johnson was more like Jackson as wel in the sense of doing what is right for the average American citizen.

2] Get a better thumbnail photo. I've seen you in person and you look a hell of a lot better than that.

3] And now truly a starry-eyed question if there ever were one, what time of day were you born?

Chandler: I can agree with #1, but #2? I think Jim is quite handsome in that one already! :)

I don't think that most people realize that the Democrats used to be the more conservative party in the US. Johnson's leadership in passing civil rights legislation would be like Bush passing ENDA and hate crimes legislation while striking down Don't Ask Don't Tell. Our party lost the South for a while after Johnson's courageous stance.