In March 2021, I was fortunate enough to be the recipient of a Postgraduate Research Assistance Award from BAAS. Receiving this award, especially one named after the great Peter Parish, was humbling. This award was also invaluable for my doctoral project. After initially considering the possibility of a visit to the United States, I quickly decided, due to the ongoing pandemic, that the award’s funds would be better used supporting remote research.
I was interested in using BAAS funds to access important archival materials from the Library of Congress. My PhD analyses the relationship between American Civil War memory and the Republican Party during the 1960s. The Library holds an array of useful collections, but I was particularly interested in materials concerning leading Black Republicans – an important group here was voices and perspectives I had not yet adequately investigated. A number of scholars, notably Leah Wright Rigueur and Joshua Farrington, have provided important studies of Black Republicanism. However, interactions between Black Republicans and Civil War memory are largely incidental and undeveloped in their works. My research will hopefully go some way to addressing this historiographical gap.
I contacted archive staff at the Library to ask for a list of potential independent researchers who could access the collections I required. I reached out to a number of people on the list, and very quickly received a positive response from Dr. Jay Driskell – an experienced independent researcher, especially at the Library of Congress. Once we had an agreed contract for this work, BAAS’s treasury team deposited the award funds in my bank account, which I then used to pay Dr. Driskell. I supplied him with a detailed list of all the materials I was interested in. He worked through this list thoroughly and promptly, managing to navigate my somewhat convoluted system of colour-coordination! He uploaded the materials he duplicated into a shared Dropbox folder from where I could easily access them. Dr. Driskell provided me with materials from a range of collections, including: Edward Brooke’s papers, Jackie Robinson’s papers, and Roy Wilkins’ Papers. I have garnered a range of important insights from these collections. They have provided sources and arguments which will vitally underpin various elements of my doctoral thesis.
My research’s overriding contention is that Civil War memory was a central part of Republican intra-party contests during the civil rights era, therefore playing an important role in the transformation of the Grand Old Party (GOP). Republicans from rival factions utilised competing historical memories in their efforts to mould the party and win votes. Thanks in large part to materials from the Library of Congress, I am now able to integrate Black Republicans, and the relationships different Black Republicans had with Civil War memory, more comprehensively into my analysis.
During the period between the 1960 and 1964 presidential elections there were vociferous intra-party battles within the GOP, as progressive, conservative, and southern Republicans chartered wildly different paths for their party. How Republicanism should relate to civil rights and the white South were key points of contention. Leading and grassroots Black Republicans overwhelmingly allied with the party’s progressive wing, supporting politicians such as New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who championed a version of Republicanism which centred civil rights liberalism. Library of Congress materials underscore how Civil War memories were crucial to the intra-party arguments tendered by many Black Republicans.
To give one example – which I located in Jackie Robinson’s papers – Dr. L.K. Jackson, a Baptist minister and longstanding Black Republican in Gary, Indiana, sent a lengthy open letter to Republican Party Chairman William Miller in October 1962. Jackson railed against conservative Republicans who were abjuring civil rights and writing off Black support. He berated “the ‘Old Guard’, reactionary, lily-white element in the Republican Party”, who had “locked arms with the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council” and “helped to defeat many measures that were designed to complete our emancipation, which the Republicans started under Abraham Lincoln 100 years ago.”
As the 1960s progressed, and Republicans reacted to the nomination and thumping presidential election defeat of ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964, Black Republicans lobbied the GOP to court African Americans and more strongly support racial progress. Goldwater’s 1964 campaign played heavily on white resentment and anti-civil rights sentiments, angering and dismaying many Black Republicans. In January 1966, L.K. Jackson wrote to Ray Bliss, the GOP’s new chairman, pushing him to be bolder and quicker in removing the vestiges of ‘Goldwaterism’ and racism from the Republican Party. ‘Real Republicans can win elections anywhere in America if they have moral stamina, Christian fortitude and patriotic guts enough to stand on the principles of Lincoln and divorce themselves from the ideas of Jefferson Davis and the notions of Robert E. Lee,’ Jackson counselled, in a letter again located in Robinson’s papers. References to the Civil War played a crucial part in Jackson’s efforts to champion pro-civil rights Republicanism.
Materials from Edward Brooke’s collection also afforded me useful insights into his relationship with Civil War memory. Brooke was probably the most famous Black Republican of the 1960s. In 1966, he won a Senate race in Massachusetts, becoming the first Black Senator since Reconstruction. My research into his papers indicates that Brooke de-emphasised Civil War memory in 1966.
While the press and the public were eager to talk about Brooke’s election as historically momentous, frequently noting and celebrating how he would be first black Senator since Reconstruction, Brooke only infrequently mentioned the past in his 1966 speechmaking. This minimisation of Civil War memories occurred because Brooke was conscious not to appear as an explicitly Black candidate, associated primarily with civil rights or the emancipationist memories commonly used to champion black progress. He made clear throughout 1966 that he was a civil rights liberal, but separated himself from Black militancy. He stressed an equivalency between Black Power and white supremacy, rejecting both. The context of Massachusetts as an overwhelmingly white state, its Black population amounted to only 2.5 per cent, was crucial for shaping Brooke’s moderate civil rights positions and his guarded approach to Civil War memory. In the years prior to and following his first Senate bid, Brooke was much more willing to celebrate the Republican Party’s emancipationist, anti-slavery heritage, underscoring the political expediency of his 1966 rhetoric. The limited place of Civil War memory in this instance underlines how political engagements with historical references are always utilitarian; and how Civil War memory is important in both its presence and its absence.
The collections I accessed from the Library of Congress have shaped my understanding, and will inform my thesis, in a variety of crucial ways. These materials offer important insights into the role of Black Republicans and the importance of Civil War memory within 1960s Republicanism. I am incredibly grateful to BAAS for their support, through the Peter Parish Award, which has made this research possible.
 Leah Wright Rigueur, The Loneliness of the Black Republican: Pragmatic Politics and the Pursuit of Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016); Joshua D. Farrington, Black Republicans and the Transformation of the GOP (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).