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A lesson in black history for the NAACP

Robert B. Elliott
Robert B. Elliott
National Archives

Black History Month is upon us, and far be it from LU to turn its back on the achievements of our black brethren. We would like, however, to dedicate this lesson to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which — their name and mission statement notwithstanding — seems fairly ignorant about black history.

Just last month, the organization refused to back down from an insult one of its members hurled at Tim Scott, whom he called a ventriloquist’s “dummy.” It would seem odd that a group dedicated to the advancement of blacks would be comfortable with such a characterization of one of two U.S. Senators of color.

The NAACP explained its position in a statement:

Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] emphasized love and justice rather than extremism. Unless we stand for justice we cannot claim allegiance to or pay homage to Dr. King. In a state such as South Carolina, politicians, whether they be black or white, should not be echoing the position of the far right.

By far right, one assumes the NAACP means “Republican.” That is certainly the attitude of North Carolina NAACP chapter head William Barber, the man who called Scott a dummy. Earlier this month, Barber told reporters that Republicans “frantically seek out people of color to become mouthpieces for their particular agenda.”

By that benchmark, Barber would have no use for two black historical figures, Robert B. Elliott (1842–1884) and Robert C. De Large (1842–1874). Both served as U.S. congressmen from South Carolina — the same state where “politicians, whether they be black or white, should not be echoing the position of the far right.” Both men did precisely that, running as Republicans.

Elliott and De Large were not the first black members of the U.S. House. That distinction falls to John Willis Menard (1838–1893). He was also a Republican. Ditto for the second black to serve in the House, Joseph Hayne Rainey (1832–1887) and the first black to serve as a U.S. Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827–1901).

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