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Column: A Trump running mate who praises Jim Crow? That’s a red flag

A man in a suit speaks to reporters
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) is angling to be Donald Trump’s running mate. One of his gambits has been to invent a silver lining to segregation.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
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Jim Crow was not the problem.

Jim Crow was meant to be the solution.

The problem was Rutherford B. Hayes winning the electoral college but losing the popular vote in 1876. To get over the hump — there was a filibuster contesting the results — Hayes agreed to remove federal troops from former Confederate states.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

In short: The Reconstruction era wasn’t ended because Black Americans had achieved equality. It was ended because Hayes wanted to be president.

Despite being a former Union soldier, he withdrew protection and offered up Black people to the whims of the South’s white supremacists who were still angry about losing the Civil War.

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They weren’t going to be allowed to reinstate slavery. So that’s where the “solution” came in. A set of segregationist laws, known as Jim Crow after a minstrel show character, were white Southerners’ best attempt to restore their former way of life. Back when “everyone knew their place.”

This arrangement worked out for Rutherford B. Hayes. Not for Black Southerners or for the country as a whole.

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Fast-forward a century and a half. The laws are long dead, and their harms still haunt us. If we can agree on anything as a nation, surely it would be that we’re better off without slavery or slavery lite.

So anyone who feels the need to downplay Jim Crow to gain acceptance from a crowd should probably reevaluate who they are trying to win over.

Last week, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), a Black Republican who wants to be Donald Trump’s vice president, told voters: “You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together.” Referring to the agency that evolved into the Department of Health and Human Services, he continued: “It was the Democrat policies under H.E.W., under the welfare state, that then helped to destroy the Black family.”

He is trying to sell Trumpists on the idea that Black people were better off when more than half of us lived under the thumb of the KKK and in poverty.

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It’s bad enough that Donalds wants power so bad that he’s willing to romanticize legislated Black oppression. But what are his chances of actually clawing his way upward? His run for House speaker was so short that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene didn’t have enough time to complain about him.

Apparently undeterred, Donalds is now trying to become Trump’s pick for vice president by looking for Jim Crow’s silver lining. Those racist laws had no silver lining. Black families were suffering because of them. Whenever Black communities started to thrive too much, white supremacists were able to murder residents and burn down businesses without being held accountable — as happened in Tulsa, Wilmington, Atlanta…

In 1919 a union made up of Black sharecroppers had formed to negotiate for better working conditions and pay. Their community in Arkansas was greeted by a racist mob hundreds strong, which left more than 200 Black people dead, including children. The mob abducted and tortured 12 men, forcing them into a false confession of insurrection when in fact they were just pursuing the American dream.

A case representing six of them (Moore vs. Dempsey) eventually reached the Supreme Court, which found in 1923 that they had been denied due process because a mob dominated their trial. The Arkansas governor commuted their death sentences to prison terms, and they were allowed parole in 1925.

They had committed no crime but spent six years incarcerated. More than 200 other members of their community committed no crime but were executed by a mob.

When current-day Black conservatives talk about the “Democrat plantation,” I wonder whether they have a name for the one they live on. Because I do.

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To suggest the Black community was better off after federal troops left the South, you have to ignore lynchings. To make the argument that Black people had it better during Jim Crow would require someone to overlook the fact that the authors of the laws had fought a war to keep Black people from being citizens.

In the decades following 1870, when the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, the Hayes administration did nothing as Southern states passed laws aimed at suppressing their voices. There were literacy tests that white southerners were exempt from. Poll taxes white people did not have to pay. Laws restricting where Black people could stand in public.

Even after the 19th Amendment finally gave women the right to vote in 1920, Jim Crow laws prevented many Black women from doing so.

So if someone like Donalds tries to tell you that Black people had it better during the Jim Crow days, remember this: Those laws were written to keep us in our place.

@LZGranderson

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