I often hear people lament this or that president was racist.
Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. I once read a quote from the Lincoln-Douglas debates (sorry no cite for now). Lincoln said, yes, blacks were intellectually and morally inferior (whatever that last one even means). But they deserved to be free, which I guess is hopeful. I think Lincoln also initially wanted to send them all back to Africa, which is rather racist too.
Woodrow Wilson was apparently a pretty obvious racist. That is rather sad, because he was one of our greatest presidents. How would World War I have ended up, without him?
Actually though I have just one question: Weren’t all presidents, pre-FDR, basically racist? That certainly would explain a lot.
I know the Republican party was nominally the party of African Americans, pre-FDR. But even they had their share of characters. Teddy Roosevelt was very anti-immigrant, apparently (despite ironically being Dutch, not English). But that is all I know.
Also, I should point out I mean racist by **modern ** standards. I am sure at the time, people thought they were just fine.
That makes the question almost meaningless. A large majority of people pre-WWII, and an overwhelming majority pre-20th century, were racist by modern standards (which in turn would make it almost impossible for anyone who wasn’t racist by modern standards to be elected to any significant office unless he concealed his views on the subject).
It’s more useful to consider the question of who was racist even by the standards of their own time. For instance, Woodrow Wilson reversed an existing policy of racial integration in the federal civil service, showing that his racism was objectively worse than that of the previous presidents who initiated and carried out the policy.
Here’s one cite (from Snopes), along with some discussion. Lincoln was more enlightened than many of his contemporaries, especially toward the end of his life, but not by today’s standards.
I, too, wonder what you mean. As I understand it, LBJ did more for civil rights/African Americans than any other 20th century President, even though he knew it would politically hurt both him personally and the Democratic party in the South.
The thing about historical standards is…whose standard? The standard of black people in 1870? The standard of white abolitionists? Or are we just talking about the standards of median white opinion?
We would not look at a figure like Hitler and assess whether he was a racist for his time by asking what the median Christian German voter thought. Instead, we would also be interested in what the people he oppressed thought and what his opposition thought. I suggest we ought to apply the same standards to U.S. Presidents. What did black people think about whether they were racist?
The answers turn out to be pretty interesting, I think. Lincoln is a great example. In the end, he won over folks like Frederick Douglas. I think that’s a much better barometer of whether he was racist for his time than asking what a bunch of white men thought.
LBJ was a southern man, who used the ‘n’ word in his colorful language. When he was in the Senate he voted against every civil rights bill that came through. He famously said “I will have every n______ voting Democrat for the next 200 years”. He went on as POTUS to sign the Civil Rights bill and get many entitlements passed for the poor. He was a paradox. I obviously don’t know how he felt about racism in his heart, but he spoke and conducted himself like most southern men of his age.
So? Lincoln abolished slavery, which is the most important step forward in US history. He was still a racist. LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, and was still a racist. These aren’t logical contradictions.
In my opinion, it’s basically impossible to not be racist. You’re racist, I’m racist, Martin Luther King, Jr was racist. The trick to enlightenment is to accept that you have racist tendencies, listen to people of other races, and strive to do better. The shitty thing to do is to loudly deny it, dig in your heels and make no effort to improve yourself at all, while lashing out at others.
Some historical people were better at this sort of introspection and self improvement than others. Coming from deeply racist societies and cultures, their progress may not have been as far as we’d like, but I try to judge them based on the direction they went rather than where they ended up. The good ones tried to make things better. The bad ones smugly considered themselves superior, resisted progress, or even used violence and intimidation to enforce their prejudices.
And of course, some did both. People are complicated. Nobody is entirely good or bad, but all of us are varying mixtures of same.
It’s easy to judge people by the standards of our time. But some of the things most of us believe today might seem appalling in the future. Repatriating former slaves in Liberia etc. was a progressive position at one time.
With that said, Wilson was the most shockingly racist even by the standards of his time.
With regards to what? The only charge for him I know of is that he used some non-PC language against Native Americans, but then some of those tribes were in active war with the US at the time.
My impression of LBJ was that he was racist to the bone, but knew it was wrong. He was also a politician, an arm-twister of the first rank, and knew that doing the right thing was going to be very, very expensive for his party. I doubt JFK could have done it, even if he had the will. Seems to me that he and Bobby were credited as being a lot more progressive than they really were. And so it goes.
Here’s my take: LBJ wasn’t comfortable shaking hands with any black man, but it was MLK, so he did it. And MLK knew that, and forgave.
No, because Jimmy Carter’s anti-racist bonafides are impeccable. He was struggling for racial equality against his own church in the '50s and '60s. He completely quit the Southern Baptist denomination because they weren’t sufficiently progressive on race.