The Republican Party, Civil Rights and the Territories
The Republican National Committee will host a luncheon to mark the 50th anniversary of the August 28,1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, which brought to The National Mall one of the largest crowds in American history. It is where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech.
Among other things, the Republican Party of American Samoa will participate to show solidarity with our African American RNC colleagues from North and South Carolina, Texas and Utah along with Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands but while our own history as a people is different, we are mindful that also this month marked the 150th anniversary of the landing in Moreton Bay, Queensland of the first ship carrying Pacific Island indentured laborers to Australia on August 14, 1863.
As the Queensland government website states: “Many [islanders] were deceived into coming–others were kidnapped or ‘blackbirded.' Between 1906 and 1908, many South Sea Islanders in Australia were deported under Commonwealth legislation and those who remained, along with their descendants, were subjected to ongoing discrimination, harsh treatment and restrictions.”
As important to us personally and we hope to all American Samoans, August also marks an important but long forgotten milestone in American civil rights history that was set 57 years ago. It also involves one of our own native sons: the late Peter Tali Coleman of Pago Pago.
On August 5, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to boycott the Republican National Convention set to begin August 20 unless the platform strongly advocated civil rights. Ike got his way.
Prior to the Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) decision, Eisenhower had desegregated the District of Columbia and completed the desegregation of the armed forces. He appointed five pro-civil rights justices to the Supreme Court and dozens of pro-civil rights judges to lower courts.
Eisenhower wanted the 1957 Civil Rights Act to be far stronger but that was not possible when over 100 Dixiecrats (Democrats from southern states) were in Congress. Nevertheless, Ike built the congressional coalition that passed the first civil rights act in eighty-two years. He later sent the 101st Airborne Division to Arkansas to desegregate Little Rock's Central High School.
According to "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution," Ike was far more progressive on civil rights in the 1950s than his predecessor, Harry Truman, and his successors, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Eisenhower's actions laid the legal and political groundwork for the more familiar breakthroughs in civil rights that followed the 1963 August march and November assassination of President Kennedy. The 1956 GOP Platform said:
"The Republican Party points to an impressive record of accomplishment in the field of civil rights and commits itself anew to advancing the rights of all our people regardless of race, creed, color or national origin.
"In the area of exclusive Federal jurisdiction, more progress has been made in this field under the present Republican Administration than in any similar period in the last 80 years.
"The many Negroes who have been appointed to high public positions have played a significant part in the progress of this Administration.
"Segregation has been ended in the District of Columbia Government and in the District public facilities including public schools, restaurants, theaters and playgrounds. The Eisenhower Administration has eliminated discrimination in all federal employment.
"This Administration has impartially enforced Federal civil rights statutes, and we pledge that we will continue to do so. We support the enactment of the civil rights program already presented by the President to the Second Session of the 84th Congress.
"The regulatory agencies under this Administration have moved vigorously to end discrimination in interstate commerce. "Segregation in the active Armed Forces of the United States has been ended.
"The Republican Party has unequivocally recognized that the supreme law of the land is embodied in the Constitution, which guarantees to all people the blessings of liberty, due process and equal protection of the laws.
"The Republican Party accepts the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that racial discrimination in publicly supported schools must be progressively eliminated. We concur in the conclusion of the Supreme Court that its decision directing school desegregation should be accomplished with 'all deliberate speed' locally through Federal District Courts."
Those who like to assert that Republicans want minorities to continue to be consigned to the proverbial “back of the bus” would do well to study this history.
Less than two months after the convention concluded in San Francisco on August 23, Eisenhower approved the appointment of Peter Tali Coleman as American Samoa's first native-born governor and followed up with the first appointments of native-born governors in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1958 and Guam in 1960. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson reverted to the practice of appointing statesiders as governors of American Samoa but it was during the Republican administration of President Gerald R. Ford that the groundwork was laid for a local referendum on August 31, 1976 on electing governors that led to the first territorial election of governor the following year.
Source: Media release, Rep Party of American Samoa