Remembering When RNC Delegates Fought For Racial JusticeBreaking News
tags: Republican Party, racism, emancipation, 2020 Election
Watching the 2020 Republican National Convention is an excruciating experience because it so clearly demonstrates the party’s decay into a slapdash monument to the president’s personal narcissism, undergirded by a fevered pep rally for white supremacist resentments. The RNC abandoned writing any policy platform in favor of a statement of “enthusiastic support” for the decisions of President Trump. Those speakers not directly related to the president described Trump in worshipful terms: “the defender of Western Civilization,” who would guide America on its “path to destiny.” The convention celebrated a white couple who pointed their guns at peaceful protestors and warned that Democrats wanted to “empty the prisons…and invite MS-13 to live next door.”
This spectacle is all the more painful when one remembers what the Republican Party once represented. Still occasionally described today as the party of Lincoln, the Republican Party was also the party of far more radical egalitarians. Rather than dwell further on the vitriol of the contemporary party, it is worth taking the time, at this moment, to recall Republican delegates of one hundred and fifty years ago, when the party was home to extraordinary fighters for racial justice.
A delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1872 and 1876, Edwin Belcher was, as he put it, “born the slave of my father”—that is, the child of his enslaved mother and the white man who held her in bondage. When the Civil War began, he disguised his race so that he could join the U.S. Army, which had not yet opened military service to black men. He was twice wounded in combat, and spent months in a Confederate prison where, had his deception been discovered, he would have been killed or re-enslaved. After the war, Belcher became one of the early graduates of Howard Law School, helped establish the Republican Party in Georgia, and served in several public capacities including an agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau, a tax assessor, and a state representative. The end of Reconstruction brought an end to his career.