Kevin Diaz’s cover story on Vickey Wilcher’s conversion to the Republican Party and her attempts to make something of the party (“Black Sheep,” 6/9) was excellent. However, one point of history was confused in discussing the voting rights of African-Americans:
“One of the elderly ladies, holding onto a metal walker, questions whether blacks could vote much at all before Roosevelt. ‘You’re doing this research, but you didn’t live through it,’ the woman says, referring to the Jim Crow era, before the 1964 Voting Rights Act.”
This paragraph confuses two different, important civil rights bills. First was the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which ended the Jim Crow laws and has been instrumental in guaranteeing nondiscrimination in employment and public accommodation. It inspired similar laws in every state and in countless jurisdictions across the country. Prohibitions on housing discrimination and discrimination against people with disabilities were added later. Prohibitions on discrimination against gay people have languished in Congress for decades.
The second law is the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which ended the barriers erected to prevent African-Americans from voting. Poll taxes, literacy requirements, and a range of other obstacles were removed by this crucial piece of legislation.
Both laws were strong-armed through the Congress by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson over the objections of Southern Democrats. Johnson remarked at the time that he thought that the South would be lost to the Democrats for a decade. He was right, and the resulting realignment of voters over the civil rights fights—including a number of other civil rights laws and court cases—and Nixon’s “Southern strategy” have solidified D.C. as a Democratic city and given the Republican Party its earned reputation for opposing basic liberties and respect for all people.
Wilcher has a tough job in trying to reverse the uncaring and hostile-to-minorities perceptions of the party. Her task is made even harder by George W. Bush’s opposition to statehood and every gay issue. But then, the Democratic Party didn’t abandon its discriminatory ways easily, either. Let’s hope Wilcher can bring the Republicans around.