The party of Lincoln no longer exists, by David W. Marshall

9/2/2021, 6 p.m.
When I hear today’s Republicans refer to themselves as the party of Lincoln, I have to stop and shake my ...

When I hear today’s Republicans refer to themselves as the party of Lincoln, I have to stop and shake my head. Do Republicans really know what the party of Abraham Lincoln actually stood for?

The Republicans of 2021 and those from 1866 are not the same.

In fact, they are polar opposites. The Republicans from 1866 were liberals who supported the cause of citizenship for freed slaves, or freedmen. They also supported the right for Black men to vote, a right that was vehemently opposed by white Southerners who at the time were conservative Democrats.

In order to address the needs of the emancipated slaves, Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was created to help freedmen in the workplace by insuring that they received fair wages and could freely choose their employers. Special courts were created to settle disputes between Black workers and white employers.

The bureau also provided food and medical aid to the freedmen while establishing schools that were attended by children and adults. These progressive efforts, which were meant to bring full citizenship to Black persons, were supported by members of the Republican Party but hated by white Southerners and conservative Democrats. The resistance to the overall advancement of freedmen was made successful through special state laws referred to as Black Codes.

Giving freedmen the right to vote would mean a major shift in political power, a shift that the Republicans supported and the conservative Democrats opposed. Giving freedmen the right to vote was a major step toward racial and economic equality, a step that Republicans embraced and conservative Democrats consistently attacked.

Many are unaware that July 30 was the anniversary of the New Orleans Massacre of 1866. As a nation, we should not continue to forget the events of that deadly day. Honor should be given to those who were killed, wounded and who took the political courage to stand for fairness and common decency.

The massacre of 1866 started as a peaceful march. Black delegates and supporters were marching to the Mechanics Institute to attend the Louisiana Constitutional Convention. The Republicans demanded that the convention reconvene due to the Louisiana state legislature’s passage of Black Codes and the unwillingness to extend the right to vote to Black men. The convention would have laid the foundation for a modified state government in Louisiana.

A mob of ex-Confederate, white supremacists, along with members of the New Orleans police force, wanted to keep the delegates from attending the convention and holding the meeting. As the march continued, shots were fired into the crowd and some Blacks attempted to escape or surrender. Some of those who surrendered were slaughtered on the spot.

The mob rushed into the building and the attack continued. Others were dragged from the convention hall by the mob and were either killed, beaten or arrested. At least 37 people were killed and hundreds more were injured.

The events of 1866 show us we have to be watchful and vigilant regarding today’s state laws. The motives behind these laws can often appear innocent and harmless, but at times are driven by the desire to maintain political, social and economic dominance.

In response to the 2020 presidential election, more than 400 voter suppression bills have been introduced in Republican-controlled state legislatures throughout the nation. These restrictive measures are not intended to protect election integrity as they may claim. Instead, the overall goal is to strategically keep targeted groups from achieving political power and political equality.

The election “reforms” vary from state to state, but the new Georgia law forbidding volunteers from giving food and water to voters standing in line undermines basic common decency. Many voters during the 2020 primary stood in line for three hours or more. This new law would make it a misdemeanor, punishable with up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

It’s a cruel strategy, but it can be successful by making a difference in a razor thin election. This particular law needs to be highlighted. It shows the degree of desperation by those who see the potential of the Black vote and its unwanted threat in future elections.

As a result, we give honor and respect to those who died in 1866 by rejecting these restrictive measures and con- tinuing high voter turnout at all costs.

Additionally, 1866 shows us that we must have an unwavering response to repressive laws that prevent the rightful sharing of political power. At the time, the Republicans and their supporters did not accept state laws that were morally wrong. The national outrage and backlash to the Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans massacres in 1866 cannot be overlooked.

During the 1866 mid-term elections, voters made a political statement by giving radical progressive Republicans victories in winning the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. In other words, common decency ultimately prevailed.

The massacres also were a motivating factor in gaining the necessary support for the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment, which would have been unlikely without Republican control of both chambers, granted citizenship to all persons born in the United States, including to formerly enslaved people. This was a major blow to the conservative Democratic agenda.

Can the same be done in 2022? Can voter suppression laws backfire and be a motivating factor in next year’s mid-term elections?

Common decency is on the ballot and it has never been a partisan issue. Will people who believe in what the true party of Lincoln stood for, which is equality and voting rights, make a political statement in 2022 where fairness and common decency prevail?

The writer is founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.”