Was Ronald Reagan a product of American Racism via the Christian Right?

I say yes. As I study and write some this AM, I keep going back to the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education court ruling that “ended” Jim Crow in schools, but gave further rise to white supremacy and the Christian right. This was the same Christian right that coalesced with the Republican Party under the guise of Christian morality. After speaking to a friend and colleague for a bit about the historiography of the Christian right yesterday, and after a great deal of reading this AM, I am more convinced that the Christian right, which today is housed within the Republican Party, emerged to justify white supremacy and to combat their growing fears of the interracial solidarity of black and white Communist, particularly after the Scottsboro Trial in 1931. In part, the USA government needed this court case to combat the Soviet Union’s argument that American democracy and capitalism were oppressive. The Christian right unified behind the election of Ronald Reagan in an attempt to elevate the racist conservative norm of states rights, and to dismantle a Soviet system that showcased the systematic realities of black and brown people. Thus, making Reagan the golden child of American racism and classism, as desired by the Christian right.


Race, Politics, and History

I have found it highly important to stress the importance of historical markers vis-à-vis racial constructs and voting in  my United States History courses. Often time, people are perplexed by the significance of Obama being elected. And, folks are even more perplexed over the matter of race. The latter point greatly confuses me. As noted in the post-circa American Civil War picture above, president Grant led Congress to debate the issue of black suffrage, raising the question of the vote for women. The controversy over the Fifteenth Amendment split the women’s movement; it passed, but did not assure black suffrage and left the issue of suffrage in the hands of the states.

Paradoxically speaking, the Fourteenth Amendment should have secured the black vote; however, due to the use of black codes, Congress quickly moved to adding the 15th. Southern states from 1868 to 1964 used various tactics to keep blacks from having any political power; it is here that shaped the constitutional liberal notion against states’ rights; blacks looked to a strong central government to protect their plight. Interestingly enough, this attitude has changed little. Blacks continue to eye states with a great deal of suspicion. As a collective group, they shifted their political loyalty by the 1960s; it was at this point that blacks supported Democrats over Republicans, though an embryonic move was in place during the New Deal. However, there is a caveat to this: many Southerners favored Democrats, too. In an ideological way, Republicans were still viewed as the party of Lincoln; it was the party that emancipated the negro and interrupted a way of life. Southerners would not shift to the Republican party until the election of Ronald Reagan during the 1980 election. Funny, but the two parties had already shifted. The Republicans of Lincoln were really the Dems of the Civil Rights movement. This part here is another post. But, I do want to note that it was a southern Democrat (LBJ) who was most instrumental in helping blacks gain greater rights.

Thus, black folks did not embrace Reagan. Better yet, he was seen as a racist — one who catered to racists looking to recapture the traditional elements before the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The traumas of the 1960s and 1970s created a loss of confidence among Americans; he capitalized on this feeling to easily win the 1980 verdict. Reagan promised to rebuild the nation’s defenses, cut inflation, restore economic growth, and reduce the size of the federal government; in reality, he did much of the opposite. Sure, he made cuts in a number of programs. Many of them aimed at helping lower-income Americans; he also cut taxes, but primarily for wealthier Americans. While reviewing a number of textbooks for my paper on Teaching the 1980s, I noted that:

Reaganomics and its assault on welfare are linked to racial issues of the 1980s. According to one text: Reagan portrayed those on welfare to being those of African-American descent. The text did shape a correct image in noting that whites living in rural areas were the primary beneficiaries of welfare, not a black mother of two living in an urban area — as noted in one of his speeches. He spoke to states rights. He spoke against affirmative action. On one hand he addressed his support for Bob Jones University, but then went on to discuss how race is not an issue. Keep in mind, Bob Jones University openly discriminated. The rational: It is not the job of the federal government to intervene in matters of the state. What?

The poorest Americans fared poorly. The bottom tenth saw their low incomes decline by 10 %. 1986, a full-time minimum wage worker earned $6,700 per year – almost $4,000 short of the poverty level for a family of four. One out of eight children went hungry and 20 percent lived in poverty, including 50 percent of black children.

While many Americans place blame on George W. Bush and Barrack Obama for the current debt crisis, all they have to do is read a history book to find that our current debt is not from New Deal programs, but from an expanding Cold War economy dating back to the 1980s.  I say let us give president Obama a chance; Americans have used both race and ideology to work against a much-needed effort at American reform. Hence, blacks will continue to vote in an ideological box; it is not because Obama is bi-racial; it is because many either read their history book, lived in an age that impacted them due to their race, or have experienced the plight of being black in the 20th and 21st century.


I did not footnote any of this information; it does have a particular lean to it; however, I suspect that if you read this blog you already know this. Thus, the greatness of America is that of voice; being permitted to share and engage in a discussion that is constructive. If you would like a works cited page, feel free to email me.

Down with the Wall 20 Years later by Guest Author

This post was written by a dear friend and great colleague from Arkansas. She teaches at a well-respected school and has become a star in her field of late. She teaches courses in AP European and World History, and has offered her expertise on topics related to the teaching of history at national conferences. We are in conversations about writing a paper on point of view and the teaching of world history for future conferences.  In reading this post, note her unique experience in Eastern Europe at a time in which the question of stability was a question mark. When Ronald Reagan famously challenged Mikhail Gorbachev, in June 1987 at Berlin, to “tear this wall down”, just about nobody could have guessed that the wall that separated two armies, two cultures and, more tragically, one people would indeed be brought down very soon, on 9 November 1989.

Tomorrow, the 20th anniversary of the fall[ing] of the Berlin Wall will be celebrated.  It is amazing how quickly our world has shifted from fighting the communists to now fighting the terrorists.  In 1989, I was 14 years old, and quite oblivious to the major changes occurring in the world around me.  However, it would become much more real to me.  In the summer of 1992, I was asked to go on a mission trip to the newly transformed Russia.  We were going to spread the Good News to the “godless” people of the newly freed Russia.  Our group consisted of four adults and eight other students.  I spent countless hours memorizing the verses we were asked to learn so we could share the gospel effectively.  It sounded like a great plan and I was incredibly excited to see what changes God could make in the hearts and lives of these people.

The morning our plane was to leave, the newspaper presses were shut down in Moscow.  Panicked, we secured a row-boat and a fisherman in Helsinki that agreed to help us get out if the borders were to be closed while on our trip.  So, armed with verses and $200.00 cash for the boatman in Helsinki, we were off.  We arrived in St. Petersburg, though the signs and most maps still referred to it as Leningrad.  As our plan descended,   I quickly noticed the difference communism makes on a country.  Large pieces of planes and debris were scattered along the run way, and soldiers were strategically placed around the runway.  As we deplaned, we were required to walk through a maze of 10-12 feet high concrete walls- so as to confuse- I was told.  We emerged into a world that looked like time forgot.  Modernization that occurred after 1950 seemed to be nonexistent.  We were greeted by our Russian guide, and I was quickly told two things:  quit smiling and don’t look people in the eyes.  I was informed, “if you want to look Russian, you should behave as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders”.

Our job was to meet up with other young students our age, and share the gospel.  I learned very quickly that this was going to be more difficult that any of us had realized.  Everyone could understand the concept of hell—they had lived that.  Yet, few could grasp the concept of heaven.  How can one accept and love God without being able to understand his rewards?  Conversion is not as was not as easy as I thought.

As so often happens, it was the people who changed me- not me that changed the people.  The last two nights that we were in St. Petersburg were spent in the homes of the friends we had made.  We were traveling on the subway with all of our gear.  I happened to look up to see a young girl holding a small bouquet of flowers.  I saw her, and smiled at her.  She immediately looked away, and I found myself embarrassed for breaking one of the rules I was told from the beginning.  In an attempt to make amends, I offered the little girl some gum.  She beamed and then took her mother’s entire bouquet to give to me.  We all laughed.  Quickly I remembered I had small gifts in my bag, nothing of any real value- crayons and coloring books, small toys, etc.  I offered those to the young girl.  Her mother wept.  I was later told the value of those small gifts were immeasurable in their current economy.  We then dumped out our bags, and began passing out all we had with us.  Jeans, tampons, house slippers.  Things that were so commonplace to us were virtually impossible to get for many.

I returned home from my trip virtually empty-handed.  We all did.  We went on a journey to try to change the lives of others, but yet, it was we who were changed.  I learned that the communists that I met were people with big hearts with huge needs.  I also learned that something as important as salvation cannot be quickly shared after merely learning a few verses.  Often it takes much more- an understanding of people’s lives- their past and their present condition.  These life lessons could not have been replicated in any classroom or experienced through reading a book.  They came as a result of seeing the world as it changed.  What an amazing gift to learn these things at the tender age of 17.

So, on this anniversary of the “fall of communism”, I must take pause.  It is important to evaluate where we were as a society.  Where are we now?  I hope we might be able to say that twenty years later, if I could go back to those who were newly freed, their ideas of hope have been fulfilled.  Maybe now, they can understand heaven.

Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize

As a big fan and supporter and believer in what Obama is doing and will accomplish, even I was surprise to learn that he won this prestigious prize; however, if one looks at this through a different set of lens — why be surprised? He has been working to make the world a far more peaceful place. His international colleagues, even the Russians and Iranians, have nothing but praise for him. It took both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan years into their presidency before they reached international stardom. The first president to win this was Teddy Roosevelt after negotiating a peace between Russia and Japan following the Russo-Japo War.

Some believe that Reagan should have won this award for the end of the Cold War, however, I suspect he did not due to his continual build up and escalation of nuclear arms during the mid 1980s. There are two books that examine this:

The once widely held view that Ronald Reagan stumbled his way through the end of the Cold War by sheer good luck has been shattered by two recent books—one by a conservative scholar, and the other by a liberal intellectual historian. Together, these two books, building on the work of previous scholars since the collapse of the Soviet empire, catapult Reagan to the forefront of presidential greatness. Paul Kengor’s The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, contends that Reagan’s goal of defeating communism and winning the Cold War can be traced to his early struggles against communists in Hollywood as head of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s. In this fight against an attempted communist takeover of the union, Reagan was, in the words of fellow actor Sterling Hayden, a “one man battalion.”

Peter Schweizer, based at the Hoover Institution, was the first scholar to significantly make the case that Ronald Reagan deliberately set out to win the Cold War. In two books—Victory: The Reagan Administration’s Secret Strategy That Hastened the Collapse of the Soviet Union (1994) and Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism (2002)—Schweizer used interviews with some of Reagan’s national security and foreign policy staffers, national security directives, Reagan’s speeches and private correspondence, and documents from several foreign countries, to argue that Reagan intentionally abandoned détente, moved beyond a passive containment policy, and pursued a strategy of victory.