Lily-white movement

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The lily-white movement was an anti-civil-rights movement within the Republican Party in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The movement was a response to the political and socioeconomic gains made by African-Americans following the Civil War and the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated slavery. Black leaders gained increasing influence in the party by organizing blacks as an important voting bloc. Conservative white groups attempted to eliminate this influence and recover white voters who had defected to the Democratic Party.

The term lily-white movement is generally attributed to Texas Republican leader Norris Wright Cuney who used the term in an 1888 Republican convention to describe efforts by white conservatives to oust blacks from positions of Texas party leadership and incite riots to divide the party.[1] The term came to be used nationally to describe this ongoing movement as it further developed in the early 20th century.[2] Localized movements began immediately after the war but by the beginning of the 20th century the effort had become national.

According to author and professor Michael K. Fauntroy,[3]

The lily white movement is one of the darkest and underexamined eras of US Republicanism.

—Michael K. Faultroy, The Huffington Post

This movement is largely credited with driving blacks out of the Republican party during the early 20th century, setting the stage for their eventual support of the Democrats.

Background[edit]

Immediately following the war all of the Southern states enacted "Black Codes," laws intended specifically to curtail the rights of the newly freed slaves. many Northern states enacted their own "Black Codes" restricting or barring black immigration.[4] The Civil Rights Act of 1866, however, nullified most of these laws and the federal Freedman's Bureau was able to regulate many of the affairs of Southern blacks. Groups such as the Union League and the Radical Republicans sought total equality and complete integration of blacks into American society. The Republican Party itself held significant power in the South during Reconstruction because of the federal government's role.[5]

During the 19th century numerous African Americans were elected to the United States Congress, all members of the Republican party. The first black senator was Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi. The first black representative was John Willis Menard of Louisiana. Over the course of the century, an additional black senator (from Mississippi) would be elected and more than 20 black representatives would be elected from Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Blacks held other powerful political positions in government. P. B. S. Pinchback was elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana and even served briefly as governor. Pierre Caliste Landry became mayor of Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Edward Duplex became mayor of Wheatland, California. In Texas, Norris Wright Cuney rose to the chairmanship of the Texas Republican Party.

In the South the Republican party gradually came to be known as "the party of the Negro."[6] In Texas, for example, blacks made 90% of the party during the 1880s.[7] The Democratic party increasingly came to be seen by many in the white community as the party of respectability.[6]

Development within the party[edit]

From the beginning of Reconstruction conservative Southern white factions fought against factions of blacks and liberal white factions for control of the party. White Republican leaders became increasingly concerned about the exodus of white voters in the South and other parts of the country, some out of concerns for the strength of the party and some for purely racist reasons.

Following the death of Texas Republican leader Edmund J. Davis in 1883, black civil rights leader Norris Wright Cuney rose to the Republican chairmanship in Texas becoming the national committeeman in 1889.[8] This development, among others, led to the lily-white movement's becoming a more organized, nationwide effort.

Black disfranchisement in Southern states[edit]

In the 1870s through early 1890s, Democrats in Southern states used various methods to suppress the vote of blacks. Republicans responded by challenging the election results and overturning them in order to count the votes of blacks. This was much more successful when Republicans held an uncontested majority of the US House than otherwise. (Compare the 13 successful challenges of Southern election results in the 54th House of Representatives, with a Republican majority, to the only single successful challenge in the 52nd House, with a Democratic majority.

Democrats in Southern states then responded with new state constitutions that effectively restricted black voting through the use of poll taxes, literacy requirements, and grandfather clauses. Mississippi passed such a restriction in 1890, and other Southern states swiftly followed. Mississippi's poll tax and literacy requirement was found Constitutional by the US Supreme Court in Williams v. Mississippi in 1898 because it putatively applied to all voters, even though in reality it was applied in a discriminatory manner.

By the end of the 1890s most blacks had abandoned or were prevented from seeking office in the U.S. Congress.[5] The last five African Americans that served in Congress, all college-educated, were the product of Reconstruction era educational and economic opportunities which were significantly eroded in the early 20th century.[9] The last black Congressman of this earlier era, George Henry White, departed the Congress in 1901. Blacks still had some influence in the Republican party but their influence continued to decline rapidly as they were unable to vote in the South. Southern white Republicans argued that there was no point in appealing to people who could not vote, and advocated mimicry of the Democratic Party's race policies in order to avoid losing white support.

Downfall of black Republicans[edit]

By the beginning of the 20th century black political influence was in freefall. During the first three decades of the 20th century blacks were excluded from the U.S. Congress.[10] As the 1920s came the movement had largely succeeded in establishing almost total white supremacy in the party. Numerous events point to this fact such as the barring of black leaders from the Virginia Republican Congressional Convention in 1922.[11]

One of the Black and Tan partisans who continued to hold appointed office was the customs inspector and later comptroller of customs, Walter L. Cohen of New Orleans, who obtained appointments from four Republican presidents and continued in office through the Calvin Coolidge administration.[12]

During the NAACP national convention in 1926, the delegates expressed their disappointment with the party.

“Our political salvation and our social survival lie in our absolute independence of party allegiance in politics and the casting of our vote for our friends and against our enemies whoever they may be and whatever party labels they carry.”[13]

An interesting historical irony is that, though strengthening the Republican Party in the South was a major motivation of the movement, the party faded to near irrelevance in the South during the early 20th century despite the movement's success.

Important figures[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Myrdal (1996), pg. 478
  2. ^ "NEGROES LOSE FIGHT IN NORTH CAROLINA; Pritchard's "Lilly Whites" Recognized by the President. Politicians in Washington Are Puzzled by Contradictory Aspects of Mr. Roosevelt's Policy in the South.". New York Times. 17 February 1903. 
  3. ^ Fauntroy (2007), pg. 164
    Fauntroy, Michael (4 January 2007). "Republicans and the Black Vote". Huffington Post. 
  4. ^ "African American History". MSN Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 10 October 2009. 
  5. ^ a b Brady (2008), pg. 154
  6. ^ a b Masson, David; Masson, George; Morley, John; Morris, Mowbray Walter (1900). "The Future of the Negro". Macmillan's magazine: 449. 
  7. ^ Lily-white movement from the Handbook of Texas Online
  8. ^ Lily-white movement from the Handbook of Texas Online
  9. ^ Brady (2008), pg. 155
  10. ^ "The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell: Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929". Black Americans in Congress (House of Representatives). Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
  11. ^ "Virginia Party Politics". Virginia Center for Digital History (University of Virginia). Retrieved 9 October 2009. 
    "NEGROES AGAIN BARRED FROM G.O.P. CONVENTION". Daily Progress. July 23, 1922. 
  12. ^ Louisiana Historical Association. "A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography". lahistory.org. Retrieved December 21, 2010. 
  13. ^ ""The Negroes’ Temporary Farewell": Jim Crow and the Exclusion of African Americans from Congress, 1887–1929". Black Americans in Congress (House of Representatives). p. 30. 
  14. ^ Hales (2003), pg. 40
  15. ^ Spragens (1988), pg. 196-198

Further reading[edit]