Skip to comments.The good that Reagan did for black America
Posted on 06/13/2004 12:15:35 PM PDT by ambrose
June 11, 2004
I cast my very first presidential ballot for Ronald Reagan. That set me apart from most of my fellow black Americans, 90 percent of whom gave their votes to Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Walter Mondale in 1984.
Even as the nation mourns Reagan's passing this week, many blacks retain their animus toward the 40th president, as evidenced by the uncharitable remarks by several black leaders.
"Black grandmothers like mine said always speak well of the dead or keep quiet," Rep. Major Owens, the New York Democrat told The Hill, a newspaper that covers Congress. "I choose to keep quiet."
"Many in the African-American community strongly disagreed with his domestic policy," said Rep. Al Wynn, a Maryland Democrat.
"In terms of being a president for African-Americans," said Diane Watson, a Los Angeles Democrat, "he was not."
Based on the remarks by Reps. Owens, Wynn and Watson, and similar sentiments expressed by other black leaders, one might conclude that the Reagan era was a period of retrenchment for the black population.
But the reality is, the 1980s, with a conservative, free-market Republican in the White House, were a boom time for black America.
Indeed, Andrew Brimmer, the Harvard-trained black economist, the former Federal Reserve Board member, estimated that total black business receipts increased from $12.4 billion in 1982 to $18.1 billion in 1987, translating into an annual average growth rate of 7.9 percent (compared to 5 percent for all U.S. businesses.
The success of the black entrepreneurial class during the Reagan era was rivaled only by the gains of the black middle class.
In fact, black social scientist Bart Landry estimated that that upwardly mobile cohort grew by a third under Reagan's watch, from 3.6 million in 1980 to 4.8 million in 1988. His definition was based on employment in white-collar jobs as well as on income levels.
All told, the middle class constituted more than 40 percent of black households by the end of Reagan's presidency, which was larger than the size of black working class, or the black poor.
The impressive growth of the black middle class during the 1980s was attributable in no small part to the explosive growth of jobs under Reagan, which benefited blacks disproportionately.
Indeed, between 1982 and 1988, total black employment increased by 2 million, a staggering sum. That meant that blacks gained 15 percent of the new jobs created during that span, while accounting for only 11 percent of the working-age population.
Meanwhile, the black jobless rate was cut by almost half between 1982 and 1988. Over the same span, the black employment rate ? the percentage of working-age persons holding jobs ? increased to record levels, from 49 percent to 56 percent.
The black executive ranks especially prospered under Reagan. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that the number of black managers and officers in corporations with 100 or more employees increased by 30 percent between 1980 and 1985.
During the same period, the number of black professionals increased by an astounding 63 percent.
The burgeoning of the black professional, managerial and executive ranks during the 1980s coincided with a steady growth of the black student population at the nation's colleges and universities in the 1980s.
Even though the number of college-aged blacks decreased during much of the decade, black college enrollment increased by 100,000 between 1980 and 1987, according to the Census Bureau.
Meanwhile, the 1980s saw an improvement in the black high school graduation rate, as the proportion of blacks 18 to 24 years old earning high school diplomas increased from 69.7 percent in 1980 to 76 percent by 1987.
On balance, then, the majority of black Americans made considerable progress in the 1980s.
More of us stayed in high school, graduated and went on to college. More of us were working than ever before, in better jobs and for higher wages.
The black middle class burgeoned to unprecedented size, emerging as the dominant income group in black America. And black business flourished, creating wealth in the black community.
Reps. Owens, Wynn and Watson may think that all of those wondrous developments were simply happenstance.
But the credit goes to Ronald Reagan, who initiated the policies that fostered the economic growth and job creation of the 1980s, which produced the prosperity that most black Americans enjoyed.
Perkins can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note that in Thomas Sowell's autobiography, Sowell said he thought that Reagan had much to offer black Americans, but regretted that the man was wholly unable to reach them. And Sowell wasn't just saying that blacks wouldn't listen to Reagan. He found Reagan lost, when it came to connecting with blacks.
I find it amusing that so many conservatives simply refuse to note one key statistic, the black poverty rate. They'll cite the absolute numbers of blacks who entered the middle class (ignoring the fact that the total number of blacks ALSO rose in that period) or America's overall poverty rate. They do this because it undermines their case, as Reagan's record for blacks is mixed. Fact is, the black poverty rate was stagnant for over two decades until the mid-1990s under President Clinton and a Republican Congress (when the black poverty rate went from 35% to an all-time low of 21%). While Reagan wasn't as bad as leftists try to portray, he also wanted a messiah for black folks as conservatives claim either.
Reagan gets big props from me for his Cold War activities (man, have I had to defend him this week), bringing democracy back to Grenada, black entrepreneurship rise, signing a Voting Rights Act extension, rise in black high school and college rates, bringing the military back from liberal hell, and overall returning optimism to America.
However, I can't forgive Reagan for starting his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi (where 3 civil rights workers were killed in the 1960s) talking about "states' rights," how he fought (and only under massive pressure signed) the Dr. King holiday, tried to undermine the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Commission. And his support for South Africa's apartheid regime and against pro-democracy activists (go-fast on anti-communism in Europe but go-slow on freedom for South African blacks?) got my gourd even as a teenager.
One last thing. Not stopping the massive drug flow into urban communities is another critique that I have of Reagan. People are responsible for what they imbibe, but how about also stemming the flow? It became a quasi-war zone.
Big article in today's Tennessean about Reagan forgiving a $20+M debt for Meharry College of Medicine in Nashville because he saw the good that could come from it; Reagan was much farther from the edge of division than Clinton, Carter or Gore will ever be for he owed them nothing and feared them not.
You're very wrong; you must read more.
If you were being logical, you would be claiming that the black middle class had not benefited from affirmative action, a claim that is absurd on its face. (You can't be claiming that I "need to read" more re Sowell. If you don't like what he said, you need to criticize him, not me.) But you're not being logical; you're being stupid and vindictive, in carrying a disagreement over from another thread that had nothing to do with this. Don't be so petty, cowardly, and dishonest.
I am very candid; to the point of rudeness; in your case, I have been patient. Sometimes, I hate myself.
You speak the truth, and until the republican party understands that there are issues, it will always be seen as non-inclusive.
You forgot to mention the dinner party where he forgot the face and name of the only black person working in his administration. When he approached his staff member, he said "glad to meet you mr. mayor", but this was no mayor, it was his only black staff member at the time. Doesn't sit well. Makes it appear that this guy was a token and had no real purpose except to be a person of color.
I guess That is why of all the things that are said about GW, at least he knows and communicates with his staff and he picked people that are of color yet very well credentialed. And I like him for that. I would rather no one be there if the person is not qualified or is only there for a token.