In D.W. Griffith’s movie Birth of A Nation, black elected officials were portrayed in a legislative chamber drinking alcohol, feet on desk, and speaking while eating a chicken leg. These stereotypes were depicted to support the notion that African Americans were not qualified to engage in governance.
Fortunately, contrary to this incorrect image, most of the blacks elected to government position during Reconstruction were the best and the brightest of the race. As such they were able to make a major contribution to improving the condition of both former slaves and whites in the south.
To take power away from African Americans, organizations such as the Klu Klux Klan organized and threatened black elected officials and their supporters. The Klan and other groups went so far as to murder individuals whose only objective was to cast their vote.
Eventually, through fear and intimidation, whites were able to seize control of the legislatures and local governments. After they were in power, laws were changed to ensure that blacks would not be able to rise to political power again.
It wasn’t until the civil rights movement, legislative enactments, and Supreme Court decisions that blacks in the South were able to regain their right to vote and opportunity to elect other persons like themselves to government positions. This phenomenon was also applicable to the north where, years before, millions of blacks had fled from the degradations of the South and now lived in segregated communities.
Initially in the northern cities, African Americans followed the pattern of electing the best and the brightest to local and state government. But it appears that somewhere along the way the northern Democrats and greedy power brokers entered into an unholy alliance that committed the Democratic Party to selecting blacks who were the least educated and more willing to enslave themselves and their people to the party for personal gain.
By building an army of “thugs,” many of whom were and are currently city and state workers, the Democratic Party has been able to break the back of an educated, independent black political movement. Social and economic progress was left up to the federal government and the courts rather than local legislatures?”this despite the fact that African Americans were represented in large numbers in various governmental chambers.
For decades in Illinois, the Chicago City Council and the Illinois legislature with respect to African-American representation was nothing more than a scene from Griffith’s movie. Black elected officials did what they were told to do and nothing else. Political office was their opportunity to get paid a high salary for doing little or no work and if they were “good Negroes,” double-dipping was the way to obtain even more money to spend on wine, women and fun.
Furthermore, the Democratic machine spent the last three decades “dummying” down the prospect of African Americans with respect to expectations for the black elected official. A good example of how this has negatively impacted people living in Austin is Congressman Danny Davis. As alderman, County Board Commissioner and now Congressman, not a single piece of legislation of merit has he contributed to the body politic. Nor have Austin residents expected any legislative accomplishments from him.
Cong. Davis is not alone in this regard. Just about every black elected official from Chicago and Cook County falls in this same category. Barack Obama, Bobby Rush, Jessie Jackson, Jr.?”no substantive legislation. What about Reverend Meeks, who uses his political clout to build a multimillion-dollar edifice to himself? The list could go on and on and on.
What happened to black Americans electing their best and brightest? What happened to selecting committed individuals who truly want to use the political process as a way of improving the condition of African Americans and other citizens?