Herbert Hoover and the South (1929)

Herbert Hoover and the South (1929)

Herbert Hoover has started something. We very much doubt if he understands the ramifications of his late declaration. His statement is that Republican Presidents for many years have tried to build up state Republican organizations in the Southern states; that this Southern Republican Party must “commend itself to the citizens of those states”; that the basis of sound government is a strong two-party representation; that there must be no sectionalism in politics; and that the re-organization must come “from the states themselves.”

He then lists the states: North Carolina and Virginia have a Republican Party. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Florida are strengthening the Republican Party, and Mr. Hoover commends the movement. He puts Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida on the black list, and says nothing about Tennessee.

All this is singularly contradictory. By law, social and economic pressure, the formation of a real Republican Party has been resisted by the Solid South for a generation. The only movement which they have been willing to admit has been the forming of a white Republican Party, and it is this “Lily White” movement which is triumphing in everyone of the states which Mr. Hoover praises. Negroes have kept their hold in Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. And two of these states, Mr. Hoover, roundly condemns.

Very good. Does President Hoover include black citizens among those whose judgment must “commend” the re-organization? If the Perry Howard and Ben Davis type of political morality does not suit him, does he not know a single decent Negro citizen in Georgia and Mississippi who can be trusted? And when re-organization must come from the states themselves, does this dominating local opinion include poor black laborers or only rich white bankers?

As a practical measure, suppose a Republican Party under white leadership and control grows up in the Southern states? On whom must it depend for votes? Manifestedly, on Negroes. Why should Negroes vote for “Lily Whites” in preference to voting for Bourbon Democrats? They must be offered something: offices, better schools, better living conditions, abolition of “Jim Crow” cars. Something! If the Democrats and “Lily Whites” compete for the Negro vote, then only patience and brains are needed to bring Negro office holders and Negro suffrage. If neither party offers anything, the new Republican Party can never exist, because it will be without votes. Even if its Federal patronage attracts any considerable body of votes from the white Democratic Party, the white Democrats can retaliate by inviting in the Negro voters, which is precisely what has happened in Tennessee. In this case, the Republicans, in self-defense, have got to submit at least to a partial Negro leadership, and Robert R. Church of Tennessee maintains his position with the benediction of the President.

Very well, an excellent program, says the country. But what does the Solid South say? The corrupt and ruthless hierarchy of Vardaman, Blease and Harrison who have made democracy in the United States impossible because of its rotten boroughs? These leaders are the ones and not the Negroes who are angry beyond expression at this blow at white supremacy which Herbert Hoover has aimed at black men’s heads.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1929. “Herbert Hoover and the South.” The Crisis. 36(5):167.