By By Craig Ziemba / guest columnist
Oct. 13, 2002
Craig Ziemba is a pilot who lives in Meridian.
J.C. Watts gave a highly motivational speech to the students of Meridian High School a few weeks ago. He's quite a guy. In addition to being named most valuable player of the Orange Bowl twice and elected to the U.S. House of Representatives four times, J.C. Watts is intelligent, articulate and widely regarded as a future nominee for president of the United States.
J.C. Watts is also a Republican and father of five who happens to be black.
For decades, un-elected leaders like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have dominated the spotlight and tried to persuade blacks to stake all of their hopes and invest all of their political will into a single organization.
By and large, they have been successful in delivering the black vote to the Democratic Party. So what's the deal with J.C. Watts, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell? Why are they Republicans?
Black Americans today stand at a political and ideological fork in the road, not unlike the one they faced after Emancipation that determined the next hundred years of their progress as Americans. Since history repeats itself, perhaps the most important and timely book on the subject of black advancement is one written over 100 years ago by a former slave named Booker T. Washington.
In his emotionally powerful autobiography, "Up From Slavery," Washington tells of his quest for freedom, dignity and education in a society that expected emancipated slaves to fail.
Many voices competed for the attention of the newly freed slaves. Some demanded reparations and political power while others just wanted the right to live and work as free men and stand or fall on their own merits.
Booker T. Washington believed that true freedom and dignity would be his through hard work and education, and spent his youth disciplining his mind and body to become a productive member of society. He became a teacher and founded the Tuskegee Institute where men and women could learn not only history and science, but practical trades as well.
The future of civil rights hung in the balance as folks like Booker T. Washington preached hard work and self-improvement while others demanded more and more help from the government. Initially, all newly franchised blacks were loyal Republicans because it was Republican President Abraham Lincoln who had freed the slaves.
During the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, however, black loyalty shifted to the Democratic Party when it promised federal assistance through the War on Poverty.
Trillions of dollars and thirty years later, many black Americans are worse off today than they were before. Ironically, many have entered a new form of slavery to the government through the disincentives of welfare, public housing and subservience to the notion that blacks can't make it on their own without a lot of help. Federal programs have done more to hurt than to help black families by rewarding single mothers with assistance while penalizing young couples that choose to marry.
Through their patronizing low expectations, the Democratic Party has done an enormous disservice to their most loyal constituents. Instead of reversing course, however, Democratic leaders now know that the only way they will stay in power is to keep buying black votes with the continued promise of just enough federal assistance to get by. That's sad.
The cycle of welfare dependency is tragic, but not irreversible. People like J.C. Watts, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell are leading a new movement in American politics that isn't based on race and doesn't focus on the past. America is still the land of opportunity, and doors are always open for people who believe in hard work, self-reliance and the power of freedom.