Colbert I. King on the Decline of the Black Republican

Pastor Mark Burns preaches at the Republican National Convention in July. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Pastor Mark Burns preaches at the Republican National Convention in July. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

Call to mind Ed Brooke, the D.C.-born late U.S. senator from Massachusetts. Think of abolitionist, orator and author Frederick Douglass, and civil rights leader James Farmer. The three were separated by occupation, and in Douglass’s case, generations. But they had two things in common: Each was an African American, and each was a Republican.

Now consider the Rev. Mark Burns, the black Republican televangelist from South Carolina who pops up from time to time on cable news as a leading Donald Trump surrogate.

Some context.

Brooke was the nation’s first popularly elected black senator. Douglass, a champion of the anti-slavery movement. Farmer, a civil rights pioneer and architect of the Freedom Ride of 1961.

Burns’s current claim to fame? The cartoon he tweeted this week depicting Hillary Clinton in blackface and saying “I ain’t no ways tired of pandering to African Americans” while holding a sign reading “#@!* the police.”

Brooke, Douglass and Farmer have gone off to glory, along with other black Republicans who earned their prominence in different endeavors, such as James Weldon Johnson, poet, educator, organizer for the NAACP and songwriter (“Lift Every Voice and Sing”). It’s not possible to know exactly what they would think of Burns, who has been profiled by Time as “Donald Trump’s top pastor.”

Burns, for sure, is an unusual man of the cloth.

Given the chance to speak at the GOP national convention in Cleveland in July, Burns addressed the question of why Clinton should be locked up: because she’s the “enemy,” he proclaimed. Said the cleric to the conventioneers, “Our enemy is not other Republicans but is Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.”

This is the same Burns who told Trump rallygoers in North Carolina that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders did not believe in God. “Bernie got to get saved, he has to meet Jesus, he got to have a come to Jesus meeting,” preached Burns.

After catching heat, Burns apologized for the blackface cartoon. Well, sort of. He deleted the tweet, which he acknowledged might have been offensive, but then defended the message he sought to convey, namely that Clinton panders after black people.

Oh, how I wish I could hear what Brooke, Douglass and Farmer would have to say about Burns and the current Republican Party — a GOP that is whiter today than it was only 20 years ago.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll conducted in 1996 found that 15 percent of African Americans sided with the GOP.

A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll this July found just 7 percent of blacks called themselves Republicans, marking a more than 50 percent plunge in black support in two decades.

It seems worth noting that as the Republican Party has staged a retreat on inclusiveness, black Republicans of Burns’s ilk seem to have advanced to the forefront.

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Source: The Washington Post |  Colbert I. King