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Reparation hearing brings out Democratic party’s ugly past

Ned Jilton • Jul 10, 2019 at 2:36 PM

My interest in history drew me to watch the U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on bill HR40.

For those of you who don’t know, the purpose of HR40 is to establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. The purpose of the commission is to examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies.

I am always interested to learn and hear different interpretations of U.S. history. But the focus of the hearing temporarily shifted when Burgess Owens was called to testify in front of the subcommittee.

Owens is a former NFL player who graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in biology. He is also the author of “It’s All About Team: Exposing the Black Talented Tenth.” A book examining how the black community has fared since the start of the 20th century.

“I use to be a Democrat until I learned my history and found out the misery that that party brought to my race,” Owens said early in his testimony.

Later Owens said, “I do believe in restitution. Let’s point to the party that is slavery, KKK and Jim Crow. ... How about the Democratic party pay for the misery they brought to my race. And those, who after they learn the history of our race decide to stay there, they should pay also, they’re complicit.”

Currently the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats. To have a black man come to this House hearing and unload on the party like that had to be very uncomfortable for the members sitting on the committee.

But from a historical standpoint, Owens is correct. Democrats were the party of slavery and more.

Beginning with South Carolina, a Democrat-controlled state that started the secession ball rolling when it left the Union citing issues such as failure to enforce fugitive slave laws in the North and direct threats to the institution of slavery by northern politicians.

Then there’s Mississippi Democratic Sen. Jefferson Davis, who said of slavery, “My own convictions as to negro slavery are strong. It has its evils and abuses. ... We recognize the negro as God and God’s Book and God’s Laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him — our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude. ... You cannot transform the negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be.”

Even Tennessee’s Democratic governor, Isham Harris, cited slavery in his speech the first time secession came up in Tennessee.

Among the points made in Gov. Harris’ Jan. 7, 1861, speech were, “The systematic, wanton and long continued agitation of the slavery question,” the “proposed prohibition of the slave trade between the states,” and the president elect, asserting the equality of black with the white race.”

An interesting point for Tennessee, however, is that when Harris made the issue of slavery the leading reason for secession, the people voted against it by a wide margin. The second time the secession issue was brought up, slavery was avoided and secession passed by a narrow margin. In fact slavery is not in the Tennessee “declaration of independence.”

After the war, Democrats continued their opposition to the rights of blacks by opposing the 13th amendment in 1865 to abolish slavery, the 14th amendment in 1866 granting citizenship for blacks and the 15th amendment in 1869 granting voting rights to blacks.

In addition, the Ku Klux Klan was formed by Democrats during this time of reconstruction with prominent Memphis Democrat Nathan Bedford Forrest elected the first grand wizard.

In the early 1900s, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson brought “Jim Crow” to the federal government when he allowed his cabinet members to segregate government offices. A law making interracial marriage a felony in the District of Columbia passed the Democratic-controlled house during Wilson’s first term and the president screened the movie “Birth of a Nation,” originally called “the Clansmen,” in the White House.

Later in the decade, Democrats opposed Civil Rights.

Democratic senators filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1960 for 125 hours and filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for much longer. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, himself spoke for 14 hours and 13 minutes in delaying the ‘64 bill. Georgia Democrat Richard Russell followed, offering the final argument in opposition before the debate, which had lasted 60 working days including seven Saturdays, ended.

Given all these fact is Owens right? If anyone pays reparations, should it be the Democratic party?

Ned Jilton II is a page designer and photographer for the Times News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at njilton@timesnews.net.

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