Ronald Reagan: A better friend of Blacks than Obama?
There they go again. First, conservatives ranging from anti-affirmative action foe Ward Connerly, to combative talk show host Glenn Beck, claimed to be acting in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as they sought to dismantle everything he fought for. Now, one of Reagan’s sons has made the outlandish assertion that Reagan was a better friend of African Americans than the nation’s first Black president.
These people have no shame.
In an article that appeared on FoxNews.com the day we observe Dr. King’s birthday as a federal holiday, Michael Reagan wrote, “…The past two years have made one thing clear: Ronald Reagan was a far better friend to Black Americans than Barack Obama has been.”
And he didn’t stop there.
Instead of Bill Clinton being known as the first Black president, the younger Reagan wrote, “Well, I could make an even stronger case for my father, Ronald Reagan, as ‘our first Black president.’” He said he could make such a case, but in deference to Obama, he decided he wouldn’t.
Well, as his father would say, let’s examine the Reagan record.
While campaigning for governor of California, Reagan opposed that state’s Fair Housing Act, saying, “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, he has a right to do so.”
Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which at the time was known for only one thing: the Ku Klux Klan murder of three civil rights workers. Reagan, using the code words of the day, said, “I believe in states rights.”
The Reagan Justice Department, unlike previous Republican and Democratic administrations, decided to stop negotiating specific goals and timetables in settling illegal discrimination cases.
Under Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Bradford Reynolds, the U.S. Department of Justice went to court to challenge voluntary affirmative action programs that had been agreed to by different parties.
Reagan vetoed the Civil Rights Restoration Act passed by Congress to overturn a Supreme Court ruling (Grove City v. Bell) that limited the remedies available to the federal government when going after private organizations that receive federal subsidies. Congress overrode Reagan’s veto.
The Reagan administration went to court to invalidate voluntary school desegregation programs, such as the one in Seattle.
Throughout his presidency, Reagan refused to take a stand against South Africa’s racist regime. When Congress voted for sanctions against the minority-ruled country, Reagan vetoed the measure. But, Congress again overrode his veto. After one pro-apartheid speech, the normally mild-mannered Bishop Desmond Tutu said: “I found it quite nauseating. I think the West can go to hell…Your president is the pits as far as blacks are concerned. He sits there like the great, big white chief of old.”
Reagan slashed domestic programs for the poor, especially housing subsidies. According to Peter Dreier, a housing expert: “Reagan’s most dramatic cut was for low-income housing subsidies… Between 1980 and 1989, HUD’s budget authority was cut from $74 billion to $19 billion in constant dollars.”
Reagan didn’t recognize his lone Black cabinet member responsible for carrying out the drastic housing reductions. At a reception for mayors, he approached HUD Secretary Sam Pierce and greeted him, “Hello, Mr. Mayor.”
He depicted poor women as “welfare queens” driving around in pink Cadillacs.
In his article, Michael Reagan noted that his father signed into law a bill making Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday. However, he neglected to say that Reagan signed the measure grudgingly, noting he did so because “Congress seemed bent on making it a national holiday.”
Reagan attempted to fire three members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – Mary Frances Berry, Blandina Cardenas and Rabbi Murray Saltzman – because the members of the then-independent body were critical of his civil rights record.
Reagan’s most lasting legacy is the number of far-right judges he appointed to the federal bench. One – Robert Bork – was so extreme that the Senate rejected his nomination.
As proof that he wasn’t a racist, President Reagan often recalled the story of when two Black members of his college football team were not allowed to stay in a hotel with their White teammates, he offered his parents’ Illinois home to the African Americans. Michael Reagan recounts that story yet again in his defense of his father. However, his quote reveals his father’s interest was not limited to the welfare of the two Black teammates. The future president said that after the coach said all of the players would sleep on the bus if the Black kids were not allowed to register at the hotel, Reagan then came up with his offer.
The son said, “Dad spoke up and offered an alternative: why not send Burgie and Jim to the Reagan home in Dixon, just 15 miles away? Dad’s parents, Jack and Nellie Reagan, would welcome his teammates – and the whole team would get a good night’s rest.”
Despite his devastating policies, President Reagan saw himself as a friend of African Americans. In a 1989 interview with CBS News about his relationship with Blacks, Reagan said, “One of the great things that I have suffered is this feeling that somehow I’m on the other side.”
It was more than a feeling; it was reality. And there’s nothing that Michael Reagan and other revisionists can say to alter the truth.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.
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