‘The Butler’ Is Right; Reagan Was a Racist

(Reagan in Philadelphia, Miss. | Source: Jeff McAdory)

It is amusing watching Republicans going ballistic over the success of the film. The Butler, which suggests that Ronald Reagan was a racist. They argue that there is no proof that Reagan was a racist, that in fact he loved black people.

Reagan: to hell with civil rights, African Americans and radical Jews from New York.

Of course, it is not easy proving someone was a racist. Yes, Reagan’s policies were the worst things to happen to black America since slavery but one can argue that Reagan was determined to take from the poor and give to the rich and that many of the poor just happened to be black.

But then there is this: the indisputable proof.

The first speech that Reagan delivered after winning the GOP nomination for president in the summer of 1980 was in Philadelphia. No, not Philadelphia, PA. But Philadelphia, Mississippi. Population 7000.

Why? No presidential candidate had ever campaigned there before.

The reason Reagan went to this Philadelphia is because Philadelphia, Mississippi was the site of the KKK lynching of three civil rights workers in 1964: James Chaney 21, an African American, and two Jewish Americans: Andrew Goodman, 21 and Mickey Schwerner, 24.

In the 16 years between 1964 and 1980, Philadelphia was a place Kluxers and other racists celebrated the good old days before civil rights.  Reagan went there solely because he was running against President Jimmy Carter, a liberal southerner who had carried the south 4 years earlier, and wanted to show that he was the real son of the Confederacy even though he was from California and Carter was from Georgia,

Needless to say, Reagan did not mention the most famous event in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in his speech there. Since his point was to demonstrate that he hated civil rights as much as Mississippi segregationists he had another message.

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

In other words, to hell with civil rights, African Americans and radical Jews from New York. Elect me and we will bring back the good old days.

It worked. Reagan carried every state in the south except Carter’s home state of Georgia. And he instituted hundreds of policies designed to repeal every advance African Americans made under FDR, Truman, JFK, LBJ and Carter.

Reagan’s hateful counterrevolution is still going strong. The GOP is now the racist party, and proud of it.

That is the Reagan legacy and it began when he began his presidential campaign by essentially celebrating a triple lynching.


M.J. Rosenberg is a Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. He was most recently a Foreign Policy fellow at Media Matters For America. Previously, he spent 15 years as a Senate and House aide. Early in his career he was editor of AIPAC’s newsletter Near East Report. From 1998-2009, he was director of policy at Israel Policy Forum. Follow him @MJayRosenberg.

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