MY MOTHER was a card-carrying Republican!
In fact, at the time of her death, Laura Ellen Mitchell was a Republican committeewoman in West Philadelphia's overwhelmingly Democratic 44th Ward, where she had served for more than 24 years as the Democratic committeewoman and judge of elections.
So, what caused this Paul-on-the-road-to-Damascus epiphany?
A Republican ward leader named Roy Dixon gave her a patronage job. It came at a time when she was forced to close her business for health reasons, and it led to the small pension she lived on until she died.
I offer that little vignette to give the Republican Party a clue (it could surely use one) about how to lure more blacks over to its "big tent."
No, I'm not advocating turning black Democrats into Republicans one job at a time. What I am saying is that the black vote is, and always has been, in play. Despite the myth that Republicans console themselves with when they lose the black vote, we are not knee-jerk Democrats!
The black vote is based on this simple question: What will I get for my vote? That's not a black thing. We all vote our self-interest. Blacks do that better than any other demographic in America.
But the hardy perennial that bursts into bloom every election cycle is the lame claim that blacks vote Democrat out of habit or in a mindless lockstep with our tribe. That is as insulting as it is ignorant.
Ignorant because it ignores or disregards a long history of blacks voting for candidates whose policies best represented their interest - regardless of party affiliation.
The capsule history goes like this: From the 1860s until 1936, those few blacks who were permitted to vote, voted with the GOP, the Party of Lincoln. The Emancipation Proclamation was only part of it. More important, Republicans pushed for and passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, making blacks full citizens of a country that had regarded them as chattel.
Black voters continued to vote and identify Republican through the first election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. After four years of New Deal policies eased the travails of a depression that weighed heavily on blacks, FDR won his first black majority. But even though 71 percent of the black vote went to FDR, no more than half of black adults self-identified as Democrat.
Until 1948, when a majority of black voters voted for Harry Truman. It was the first time a black majority identified as Democrats. Truman had lobbied Congress for a federal ban on lynchin and had integrated the military.
But the black vote was still in play. Eisenhower got 39 percent of the black vote in 1956; Nixon polled a third of the black vote in 1960. How did that dwindle down to the 10 percent or less Republicans now enjoy?
Republicans didn't just lose the black vote; they forfeited it in a cynical ploy called the "Southern strategy" employed willfully in 1964 by Barry Goldwater, again by Richard Nixon in 1968 - and again when the great communicator Ronald Reagan chose to kick off his 1980 campaign in Neshoba County Mississippi, with a "states' rights" speech that completely ignored the murders of three civil rights workers who were slaughtered there for attempting to register black voters.
Apologists try to spin away the racism in Reagan's first general election campaign stop. But the overwhelmingly white crowd at the Neshoba County Fair knew exactly what he meant when he sounded the "states' rights" dog whistle. So did we.
Nixon's political adviser, Kevin Phillips, was clear and unapologetic in a 1970 New York Times interview. "From now on," he was quoted in the article "the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don't need any more than that . . . The more Negroes who register as Democrats, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans."
Fast forward to 2016 and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump raises this poignant question with black voters: "What have you got to lose?"
The right question is, what do we have to gain? A candidate who can come up with a good answer to that, instead of exploiting racial divisions for political purposes, will find that the black vote is still in play.