Presidents’ Day is an odd holiday for me, its strange that it’s in the middle of Black History Month, when the majority of our presidents have done nothing to advance the place of Blacks in American society. However there are many, including our vice president Mike Pence, who will argue that presidents like Abraham Lincoln fought for slaves by releasing the emancipation proclamation in 1862. What Pence and those who agree with him fail to embrace is the fact that Lincoln did not emancipate slaves for their benefit or with their interests at heart, he actually did so for his own interest, in the interest of repairing the union. I’d mentioned this earlier in the Black History month series, February 13th’s Article which focused on Blacks in the military.
In 1863, there were political and military influences that finally pressured Lincoln to issue the emancipation proclamation. Contrary to popular belief Lincoln did not issue the proclamation because he had a sincere interest in freeing slaves. Lincoln said himself, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery…What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union”. Lincoln did not care about the well being of slaves, he wanted to use them and as a result soon after the proclamations release Blacks living in those free states flooded the white house to join the Union army
He knew that recruiting Blacks into the military would guarantee the success of the Union army in the civil war, therefore the slaves had to be emancipated in order to be eligible to enroll in the Union Army. To celebrate those presidents whose position on Black people was oppressive, during Black History month is a slap in the face. This is why I choose to reflect on those African Americans that ran for president throughout American History, none of them successful until Barack Obama’s 2008 election, but all of their campaigns are what gave Obama and other Blacks the space to participate in the political arena. When I looked up Blacks who’d run for president I was shocked by how many people there actually were, men and women of all ages, some whose campaigns were quite successful and even ran multiple times.
Most people know candidate Shirley Chisholm, a democrat from New York, as the first Black person to run for president but this isn’t true. Over a century before Chisholm’s campaign, the first Black person to run for president was Frederick Douglass in 1848, his campaign was run prior to Black suffrage. This was an incredibly bold move, as he was running without the support of the Black vote, but imagine if Douglass had been our president, there wasn’t a thing that Douglass didn’t try to do when it came to politics and activism.
Later in 1904 George Edwin Taylor was a candidate of the National Liberty Party. He was born August 1857 in Little Rock, his father was a slave while his mother was free. After Arkansas passed the Free Negro Expulsion Act in 1858 he and his mother were forced to move to Illinois. The Act banned the residency of free Black or mixed race people in the state. Shortly after moving his mother died of tuberculosis and was left an orphan to attend school in Wisconsin. There is where he got experience as a journalist and an activist. After leaving Wisconsin in 1891 he went to Iowa where he published a national magazine, The Negro Solicitor which allowed him to rise to prominence in the national Black politics. Taylor acted as the president in the National Negro Democratic League. The Liberty Party he ran with denounced Democrats’ disenfranchisement of African Americans. It was the first political party created exclusively by and for Blacks. Their agenda included: universal suffrage regardless of race; Federal protection of the rights of all citizens; Federal anti-lynching laws; additional black regiments in the U.S. Army; Federal pensions for all former slaves; government ownership and control of all public carriers to ensure equal accommodations for all citizens; and home rule for the District of Columbia. Taylor’s presidential race was viewed as unrealistic and impractical, whites saw his campaign as a joke, but he believed that the formation of an independent political party was the most effective way Blacks could exercise their political influence.
Another influential but not widely known Black presidential candidate was Clifton DeBerry born in 1924 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Although he was from the South and moved to Chicago, worked in a factory, and became an active member of the Farm Equipment Workers Union before joining the Communist Party. In 1953 he joined the Socialist Workers Party. After the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi he organized protests in Chicago. He was a supporter of Malcom X and marched for Civil Rights in Selma, Alabama and Tennessee. He later moved to New York because it was difficult for him to keep a job in Chicago, “I would get a job and it would last only 3 days. I would go from one job to another. The FBI would visit my boss and I would be fired.” In the 1964 election DeBerry became the Socialist Workers’ Party’s first Black presidential candidate.
Arguably one of the most affluent candidates was Lenora Fulani; a psychologist, psychotherapist and political activist. In 1988 she became the first woman and the first African American to achieve ballot access in all fifty states and received almost a quarter of a million votes. She ran with a female running mate, Joyce Dattner, as apart of the New Alliance Party. In 1950 Fulani was born as Lenora Branch in Chester, Pennsylvania. After being awarded a scholarship to Hofstra University in New York she went on to earn a master degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College and then she went on to earn her PhD in developmental psychology from the City University of New York. Her work focused on learning and social environments for Black youth. She’s co-founder of the All Stars Project with famous psychologist Fred Newman as well as founder of Operation Conversation: Cops and Kids which focuses on improving the relationship between inner city youth and police officers.
Most people know about a few famous Black presidential candidates like Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama but that is because all three of these people ran with the Democratic Party, a primary political party in America’s two party system which has already proven to suppress the votes of people of color. We saw this clearly in Trumps election which effectively suppressed the majority votes of black and brown men and women in the United States. Today I wanted to focus on a few candidates who ran with parties that focused their agenda on issues effecting the Black Community. As a young Black women, Presidents’ Day for me is recognizing the accomplishments of those Black candidates who dared to run against the odds and came out successful in many ways. Although they did not win the election they were effective in organizing the Black vote to maximize our political power. We know that the democratic party isn’t fighting for us, if so Democrats would not have been instrumental in reinforcing the prison-industrial complex. Van Jones, an African American activist and attorney discusses this in a Vanity Fair interview where he explains how Donald Trump wouldn’t have been elected if Democrats fought mass incarceration,
hundreds of thousands of African-Americans [are] permanently barred from voting because they’re convicted felons,” adding that if formerly incarcerated people were allowed their voting rights after release, Florida “would be a blue state every time.”
Understanding this, we must recognized how this 2-party political system is designed and work against us. We can make an impact if we act together, even if that means creating our own political party to vote with we must make sure our voices are heard. This Presidents’ Day take a look at this history of those Blacks who ran for president, there are more than you might think and their stories are incredible.