The First Black President

harding2.gifby John MacMurray –

For most Progressives, the idea that the Republican Party got out in front of us on a major social issue is both galling, and difficult to believe.

And yet, in these dawning years of the 21st Century, when Democrats and other Progressives are waiting with crossed fingers and bated breath for Senator Barack Obama to become the first African-American President, some people contend that it’s already been done — over 80 years ago, by the Republicans; and, Conservative Republicans, at that.

The people making the contention are relatives of Warren G. Harding, the 29th President, who was elected in 1920 and died under mysterious circumstances in 1923.

According to articles in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the New York Times, surviving relatives accepted the discrepancy because they were ‘colored’ and Harding was ‘passing.’ This was an important difference in those times, when the Ku Klux Klan was having a major revival and the ‘one-drop’ rule meant instant failure for anyone attempting to enter politics, or society in general. Black people passed themselves off as Cuban, or something similarly far away to make checking difficult.

And, for good reason. What’s well known about Harding’s 1920 Presidential Campaign was his “front-porch campaign,” where for weeks he delivered stump speeches from his home in Marion, Ohio. “Far less well-known,” according to the Times article, “is what happened in Marion the year before, when a mob of armed white residents drove more than 200 black families out of town on a wave of postwar race riots that served to segregate the industrialized North.”

john-macmurray-1.jpgIn support of the family’s claims, their genealogical work seems to be as sound as most work of the era; their family photos certainly do feature black people. Comprehensive DNA testing might settle the issue, but is unlikely to be done.

What does seem strange to the Progressive mind is that the Republicans, far from extolling this social milestone, are not only still hiding it, but covertly attacking Senator Obama for walking a path they established.

by John MacMurray

John MacMurray is the Democratic candidate for California’s 72nd State Assembly District, which covers northern Orange County. He teaches 7th grade language arts and social studies at Ladera Vista Junior High in Fullerton.

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