Kiron K. Skinner: Ronald Reagan and the African American





[Kiron K. Skinner is the co-author of Reagan, in His Own Hand and other books. She is on the advisory board of the George W. Bush Oral History Project, teaches international relations at Carnegie Mellon University, and is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.]

Ronald Reagan, who narrowly lost the Republican party’s presidential nomination in 1976, realized that his party needed to broaden its base into a durable coalition that would help its members win and maintain office at the local, state, and national levels. Speaking before a gathering of conservatives in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 1977, just five days before Jimmy Carter took the oath of office, Reagan emphasized this point, stating:

The New Republican party I envision is still going to be the party of Lincoln and that means we are going to have to come to grips with what I consider to be a major failing of the party: its failure to attract the majority of black voters.

It’s time black America and the New Republican party move toward each other and create a situation in which no black vote can be taken for granted.


Throughout the late 1970s, Reagan continued to exhort fellow Republicans to face this problem, and he worked to win the black vote after he won his party’s presidential nomination in 1980. Speaking at the Urban League convention in New York on Aug. 5, 1980, he proclaimed, “I am committed to the protection and enforcement of the civil rights of black Americans. This commitment is interwoven into every phase of the programs I will propose.”...

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