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The Tentacle


December 4, 2007

Partisanship or Prejudice

Roy Meachum

During the years spent hanging around the White House, I found it funny when a friend received a birthday book: "Republicans I Have Known and Loved." Inside were blank pages as might be expected among that Democratic crowd.

After 23 years observing and commenting on Maryland and Frederick politics, I am no longer amused.

When I moved up here from Washington, in 1983, this town remained under firm Democratic control, like the South I had left for the Army nearly four decades before. The winds of change, although delayed, were starting to blow the old regime away.

Across the Sunbelt states, which included my native Louisiana, the South remained solid, but no longer comfortably Democratic. Republican wooing aside, the shifting had come with Washington's help. It had actually started when Dwight Eisenhower sent paratroopers to integrate an Arkansas high school.

Probably the 20th century's most popular president going-in, Ike was simply upholding the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown v. the Board of Education. The justices declared that separating students on the basis of color was against the Constitution, which guarantees every citizen must be treated as equal to every other American.

It should be noted that segregation was not legal in the states that went together to form the Confederacy. Slaves were consigned to the lowest human class but "people of color" were free to make their own way and fortunes. Many did.

Pre-Civil War New Orleans bustled with emancipated ex-slaves and blacks who had never worn any man's collar. That category in my hometown consisted chiefly of refugees from Haiti; they came on their own, fleeing from the hemisphere's first African American republic.

Post-Civil War segregation was born of the times and reactions to political attempts to capitalize on the numbers of liberated men who were then capable of entering the voting booth. (Women did not get the right until after World War I.)

In Dixie, Republican administrations found themselves required to use the U.S. Army to guarantee the rights of the newly enfranchised citizens. When the "blue-bellies," as they were known in the territories they occupied, were forced to withdraw, the South rejected Mr. Lincoln's new party and tucked itself into the Democratic Party.

Until the Brown v. the Board of Education decision, the lower tier of states was solidly off-limits to the GOP. The only Republicans I knew when growing up were in the pages of history.

Public schools, definitely segregated, taught as if emancipation never happened. We learned that the true heroes of the post-war Reconstruction were Knights of the White Camellia. The Ku Klux Klan's anti-Papist and anti-foreigners strictures made it unwelcome in South Louisiana, which was very Catholic and bursting with recent immigrants.

These new Americans naturally gravitated to the party in power. Since Democrats dominated the South's municipal and state governments, at that time, Democrats dispensed jobs and favors to the newly arrived.

Grover Cleveland's separated terms in the White House hardly mattered. Woodrow Wilson's eight years, which included World War I, amounted to little more than a political hiccup.

The GOP's grasp on Washington held firm until the Great Depression ushered Franklin D. Roosevelt into control of the national ship of state. As much as any other single element, the ex-Confederacy's rosters of Democratic voters and political leaders kept him there.

A former slave-holding state, Maryland was kept in the Union during the Civil War chiefly by "blue-bellies" and their bayonets. An attempt at a Frederick meeting by the "Secesh" members of the General Assembly was broken up, on Mr. Lincoln's order. The first blood shed in that fraternal disaster was in Baltimore.

Keeping the state in the Union was the point where Maryland remained aloof when the South's occupation regressed into all-out though silent rebellion. It was saved from the oppression inflicted by "Reconstruction," another euphemism manufactured by government flacks.

In fact, instead of rebuilding, the period exhausted state treasuries, leaving the former Confederacy deeply in debt, which was not lifted until World War II.

Although sections, especially the Eastern Shore, were left bereft when its slaves were freed after Appomattox, this state was generally exempt from Reconstruction's devastation. (Mr. Lincoln's historic emancipation proclamation applied only to those human beings held in territory not controlled by Washington.)

Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri belonged in the category of Border States, sending brothers to fight for each side. They also remained solidly Democratic. Brown v. the Board of Education left them relatively unshaken, when massively and federal-led integration produced an earthquake in the no-longer Solid South.

My generation witnessed de-segregation led primarily by Lyndon Baines Johnson. The Texas redneck, one-time schoolteacher, kept promises mouthed by his patrician predecessor, John F. Kennedy. In fact, the Massachusetts' politician entered what became the Civil Rights War cautiously and half-heartedly.

At his assassination, the entire burden for leading American society through the massive social engineering needed for the new revolution fell to Mr. Johnson. Although Republican Eisenhower had ordered the 82nd Airborne into the integration fray, only Democrats were blamed.

When Richard M. Nixon's emissaries came calling, the former Confederate states fell ferociously in the GOP camp. Principally the big cities kept their opposition in play. We have witnessed how the change of residency has added to the flight, topping up Republican ranks, in places like Frederick. (Concluded in Friday's TheTentacle.com)



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