The Truth About Reagan, Race and The GOP

from John Ehrenfeld

The Truth About Reagan, Race and The GOP

The GOP’s difficulties attracting minority voters to their camp today is in large part rooted in the anti-minority policies espoused by Ronald Reagan.

Oscar Eason, Jr., former president of the Seattle branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says,

“During Reagan’s administration, the issues and concerns of the Dixiecrats became principally those of the Republican Party. It was precisely at this juncture that the Republican Party ceased being the Party of Lincoln and evolved into what it is today to the vast majority of black America, almost racially exclusive and dedicated to protecting and maintaining the status quo”.

Yet, it’s commonplace for the GOP presidential candidates to be in a perpetual state of reverential delirium, knocking each other over while frenetically stampeding to prostrate themselves drooling at the alter of Ronald Reagan. Each one claims to be the sole and rightful heir to the hallowed throne of the Gipper, the keeper of the conservative holy grail.

As each day goes by, the political canonization of Ronald Reagan becomes more indelibly etched into American political folklore. It has taken on an ethereal life of it’s own and has become one of the most reprehensible mischaracterizations and public relations scams in history. What’s particularly disturbing is not that the reactionary right embraces him as the second coming, to be expected, but that some Democrats and the media have also been sucked into buying the hallucinatory propaganda about Reagan as well. Oh, how nostalgic we are, he was just a harmless nice man who made everyone in the country feel good. Well, not everyone.

As the symbolic backbone of the extreme right-wing in this country and the guiding voice behind the GOP platform today, it’s important that the truth about Ronald Regan’s legacy be continually exposed and never forgotten. Regan was arguably the worst President in US history and one could legitimately point to a myriad of issues to prove this. A failed Middle East policy, extreme hostility towards labor unions, disdain for OSHA and the EPA, opposition to social programs for the poor, large federal budget deficits, support for brutal right-wing dictatorships, support for the racist regime in South Africa and of course, the Iran-Contra scandal.

Yet nothing speaks more succinctly to his failures than Reagan’s policies on race. When today’s GOP lauds Ronald Reagan, African-Americans should know what that legacy means and what the repercussions are in today’s world.

The Citizens Commission on Civil Rights said,

“Ronald Reagan caused an across-the-board breakdown in the machinery constructed by six previous administrations to protect civil rights.”

Many call Reagan a racist. Was he? I don’t know. But did he enable racist ideology in the United States? Absolutely. His actions spoke clearly to that point.

Symbolic moments in time tend to mean something in American politics. August 4th, 1964 was one of those times, the infamous day when the bodies of three murdered civil rights workers were found in Philadelphia, Mississippi. (The story was told in the Alan Parker film, “Mississippi Burning”). Sixteen years later, almost to the day, on August 3rd 1980, Ronald Reagan purposefully decided to deliver the first speech of his Presidential campaign in of all places, Philadelphia Mississippi. That Ronald Reagan would choose such a location to jump-start his campaign for President speaks volumes. There in his speech, he would embrace and endorse the treasured bible of the racist South, states rights.

Reagan’s presidency was an unmitigated disaster for minorities and that legacy plies it’s evil trade even today. The record is crystal clear and unambiguous.

1. Reagan strongly opposed passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the law that barred segregation in public facilities and discrimination in education and hiring.

2. In 1981 Reagan attempted to reverse a policy denying tax-exempt status to private schools that practice racial discrimination and sought to grant an exemption to Bob Jones University. This despite the school’s racist ban on interracial dating.

3. Reagan actively opposed passage of the Open Housing Act, a measure to end discrimination in housing.

4. As President, Reagan cut funding for civil rights enforcement.

5. William Bradford Reynolds, Reagan’s Assistant Attorney general for civil rights stated that the administration would no longer use goals and timetables to help eradicate racial discrimination and sought to make illegal voluntary affirmative action programs.

6. Clarence Pendleton, a divisive Black conservative, was appointed chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

7. Reagan pushed through a cut in federal taxes but balanced those cuts on the backs of the poor, slicing nearly $50 billion from the budget the first year.

8. Reagan cut social spending drastically, disproportionately effecting minority communities..

9. Reagan opposed race-based preferences at a time when minoritys were struggling to break free from the shackles of poverty and institutionalized racism..

10. Reagan attempted to fire Mary Frances Berry, the head of the Civil Rights Commission. She supported race-based preferences which Reagan opposed.

11. After taking office in 1981, Reagan began a sustained attack on the government’s civil rights apparatus, opened an assault on affirmative action and social welfare programs,

12. Reagan waged war on the small, Black Caribbean nation of Grenada which was no threat at all to the United States.

13. During his presidency, Reagan fired members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who criticized his civil rights policies, including his strong opposition to affirmative action programs.

14. Reagan attempted to limit and gut the Voting Rights Act

15. Reagan slashed programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act that provided assistance to many African Americans.

16. Reagan supported the apartheid government in South Africa and labeled Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress a notorious terrorist organization. In 1981, Reagan said he was loyal to the South African regime because it was “a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals.”

African American leaders and organizations pressured Congress to take action and ultimately it passed sanctions against South Africa. Reagan vetoed the bill. But Congress overrode the veto.

17. Reagan also attempted to limit and gut the Voting Rights Act and he slashed important programs like the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act that provided assistance to many African Americans.

On election day 2008 remember. This country cannot afford another Ronald Reagan.

Note: Factual information contained in this post was obtained from multiple sources including:


Pacifica Radio

Time Magazine

Democracy Now

The Truth About Reagan, Race and The GOP