Georgia Congressman John Lewis recently spoke to CBS about the years it took to create the National Museum of African American History and Culture. What Lewis failed to mention was how much help for the project came from Republicans, and how little came from the Democrats Lewis fiercely defends.
Both Democrats and Republicans have played a role in damaging the black community. Democrats like Lewis, however, tend to caricature Republicans as racist devils, whereas Democrats are presented as the only option for black voters. The political backstory to how the African-American history museum came to be, however, speaks to the falsity of this binary,
Rep. Lewis began introducing the bill for the museum in 1988 and continued introducing it with each new Congress. According to a Washington Post report, when segregationist Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) blocked the bill, it was Republican Senator [George] Mitchell and Senator [Robert] Dole who tried in earnest to push the project.
Where Were Democrats When Rep. John Lewis Was Trying to Build the African-American Museum?Click to tweet
Republicans J.C. Watts and Sam Brownback also stood with Lewis. And both Brownback and Watts played an essential role, as the Post reports:
Then God intervened, according to Kansas Gov. Brownback, who was a Republican senator at the time.
“It was divine intervention, and I say that truthfully,” Brownback recalled recently. He was praying in church one day when the idea of an African American museum came to him. He didn’t know that Lewis, in the House of Representatives, had been pushing for the same thing.
“A number of us at the time had been talking about racial reconciliation,” Brownback said. “I went back and asked staff to do some research. That’s when I found .?.?. that John Lewis had put in a bill for a dozen years.”
Along with Watts, a congressman from Oklahoma, they built bipartisan support. But they still couldn’t get over the problem of its location. Lewis and others fought for a spot on the Mall, a provision that proved controversial in the 1990s and was still a problem a decade later.
President George W. Bush signed the bill into law in 2003.
The only Democrat spoken highly of in the Post story is Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.).
Only recently, Rep. John Lewis allowed himself to be used as a tool by Democrats pushing gun control. He used the language and tactics of the Civil Rights movement to justify a meaningless spectacle. But do the Democrats who routinely trot out Lewis whenever they require political cover stand up for him when he has a piece of legislation he feels strongly about? That’s a question we should be asking of all black Democrats.