African Americans and the Republican Party: A History That Changed the American Two Party System.
By: Chaplain Rich Stoglin, a proud African American Republican in Tarrant County
Throughout its history, the Tarrant County Republican Party has emerged as a beacon for conservatism across the great State of Texas. As one of the largest, urban Republican Counties in the nation, the Tarrant County GOP has cemented its role as a national leader in both thought and action. An organization developed on the precepts of diversity and growth, the Tarrant County GOP hosts a fascinating history that warrants evaluation.
The Republican Party is currently in the midst of a battle of identity. The Democrats have fought hard and long to establish their role as the Party of diversity; but, in fact, history shows the opposite is true. The Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, is the Party of equal rights, emancipation, and freedom. And the Tarrant County GOP has mirrored those principles since its conception.
Within its historical annals, there are pages of brave African Americans who have worked tirelessly to build-up the Republican Party. These men and women not only helped establish the identity of this great Party, they also helped set it on a path toward success.
What do the names Emmett Allen, Essie Campbell, Reby Carey, Frederick Douglass, Devoyd Jennings, Bill McDonald, Grace Mitchell, Ben Morrison, Jackie Robinson, Judge Wayne Salvant, Judge Louis Sturns, and Bobby Webber all have in common? They are all African American Republicans. They are all people who believed in the principles of the American dream, and fought to create a Party that aligned with those principles. However, the traditional media has been dedicated in their assault on these historical truths. Vitriolic rhetoric and race-baiting by those whose only objective is to deepen racial polarization, has caused many to forget the historical truths of these difference makers. But there are still many who remain committed to illuminating the truth. Tarrant County Republican, Mr. Reby Cary, has been a champion for these historical truths. Through his trailblazing writing and entrepreneurial endeavors, he has been an immeasurable contributor to preserving the history of the great state of Texas. As a World War II U.S. Coast Guard veteran, his contributions to this country are a demonstration of what it means to beat the odds. Mr. Reby Cary is also the founder of the Frederick Douglass Republicans of Tarrant County, which encourages its members to “Be an informed, intelligent voter, make your vote count: remember!”
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, of the African American Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was another person who played a critical role in founding the Republican Party. Throughout his life, he served a variety of critical roles within our Party. In 1868, the Reverend Turner, along with twenty-six other Republican Black Legislators, was duly elected in Georgia. He later was appointed as Postmaster of Macon, Georgia, a key position at the time. However, in the later 1870’s, racial hatred throughout Georgia and the United States began to dramatically reverse the huge progressive steps this country had made during the time after the Civil War. This unfortunate reversal immediately reduced the role of its black citizens and black Republicans throughout this nation.
It is imperative to study the basic question: Why did African Americans become Republicans? The simple truth is that the Republican Party was, and still is, the party of Abraham Lincoln. While it can be argued President Lincoln had reservations over the issue of slavery, one of President Lincoln’s strongest critics, supporters, and confidants was none other than the ex-slave, Frederick Douglass. Mr. Douglass, who ultimately gained his freedom, was a self-taught intellect and scholar. He was an ardent anti-slave abolitionist and women’s suffrage advocate who proudly proclaimed his allegiance to the Republican Party. Hear his words, for he speaks to us today:
“I am a Republican, a black dyed in the wool Republican, and I never intend to belong to any other party than the party of freedom and progress.”
While Frederick Douglass was blazing trails on the national front for African Americans, women, and those less fortunate, there was a local rising star in Fort Worth, Texas about to take center stage. Mr. William (Gooseneck) Madison McDonald, a Fort Worth native, was born on June 22, 1866, at College Mound in Kaufman County, Texas. He died July 5, 1950. William Madison McDonald, an African American named after William Shakespeare and President James Madison, came from humble beginnings. However, he would rise to become the first black millionaire in Texas. This acquirement of wealth would not come without a struggle and a series of racial and political challenges. Yet, through the sheer tenacity of William (Gooseneck) Madison McDonald’s efforts, he overcame numerous struggles to demonstrate for his family, his people, and the Republican Party, “failure is not an option!” There was too much at stake to remain silent without the informed voices demanding justice. Although, given the political polarities during this country’s racially extreme views following the Civil War, William McDonald began to make headway in an otherwise radical period.
With the encouragement of those closest to him, William McDonald not only graduated from high school (a rare occurrence in Texas at that time for African Americans), but went on to graduate with a business degree from Roger Williams College (today known as LeMoyne-Owen College) of Nashville, Tennessee. Eventually, as he became known as Gooseneck (Bill) McDonald, he would advocate for African Americans, Hispanics, and poor whites for equal rights and employment opportunities. As a well-known businessman, Gooseneck McDonald became a prominent member of the black and tan faction of the Republican Party. In 1906, Mr. McDonald founded Fort Worth’s first African American owned bank with the Texas Black Masons.
In Mr. Reby Carey’s short biography of this unique black, entrepreneurial native of Fort Worth he writes,
“In 1890, Bill McDonald was appointed County Chairman of the Republican Party. Most blacks were Republicans at that time. In 1892, he was among the 120 black delegates to the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1894, he was made State Chairman of the Republican Party in Texas…Time proved that Bill McDonald was a crafty politician, a shrewd businessman and a believer in self-help.” 1
Today, African American Republicans are still proudly serving their country. There are currently two African American Republicans in the 114th Congress and one United States Senator.
Clearly, African Americans are not strangers to the Republican Party. History has proven that beyond dispute. The Party of today must boldly embrace these components of our history and continue to establish relationships with the African American community. For the Tarrant County Republican Party to remain a bastion of conservative principles and a national leader in policy, it is critical that we never forget our history as the Party of Abraham Lincoln.
1 The quotes were by permission of Reby Carey from his book, “Black Historical Icons of Fort Worth, Trophy Lives.” pp.38-39.