In the post-Civil War Era, inspired by Abraham Lincoln and Union victory, those Blacks who could overcome State requirements aimed at preventing their voting usually voted Republican. President Dwight D. Eisenhower overwhelmingly was supported by Blacks when he ran for re-election in 1956. Then came Senator John F. Kennedy (D-MA) in the 1960 Presidential race. Blacks switched and voted for JFK. They helped him win that squeaker election against Vice President Richard M. Nixon.
What happened? At the time I just had begun my broadcasting career and was working at WLIP in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Working along side me on weekends was DJ Hal Mason. Since I liked the sort of jazz he played on his show we became good friends. I asked him why Blacks suddenly had abandoned the Party of Lincoln and switched to the Democrats, whose policies in the South, after all, were aimed at keeping Blacks in their place.
Mason explained to me that Democrats worked the Black Community hard. Democrats attended events all year long. They showed up at Black churches, at picnics and at businesses where Blacks were employed.
Republicans, he explained, rarely campaigned except perhaps immediately prior to an election and then the Republican Party, he said, showed no interest in the Black Community as such. Mason’s comments made a deep impression upon me. For years after that I tried to interest Blacks in the conservative cause. The word “conservative” itself was poison in the Black Community as it was looked upon as rhyming with segregation.
President Nixon made an effort to reach the Black Community through small business initiatives. I played a small role in that effort. While it worked, the Democrats continued to get the votes. I tried in various ways over the years, first working with Black mayors, then later with supporters of Justice Clarence Thomas, such as Phyllis Berry Meyers, to reach the Black Community. Each effort did not produce a great deal, although Meyers’ initiative was the most productive. She taught me that to attract Black Democrats we must work through the Church. We didn’t have the keys to doing so. Democrats continued to receive the votes of Black citizens.