Were it not for the federal government, neither blacks, women, First Nations People nor other minorities would enjoy their present quality of life in America. The post-Civil War and other amendments to the federal Constitution and the decisions by the federal courts have aided minorities in their social, educational and employment advancement. This has been a constant source of consternation to whites who advocate for states’ rights. The Tea Party and their ilk prefer the American of old – a country dominated by white power where minorities and women are invisible.
The Southern backlash of Jim Crow and the Black Codes that followed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments which granted black citizenship, equal protection and voting privileges was a states’ rights centered movement that undermined federal mandates for blacks as citizens rather than property. From that point on, anti-black feelings have stoked anti-federal sentiments that predated the Civil War. The modern Tea Part Movement, the Southern Strategy of stoking the embers of racism every election season, and states’ actions to limit the Voting Rights Act are all related to not wanting people of color to be competitors in the marketplace nor to be considered equal in American society. Equality offends the sensibilities of the privileged.
The federal government is responsible for black citizenship, not the states. After the debacle of the Dred Scott Decision (1857) which declared 4 million slaves “chattel” or property, the 13th Amendment (1865) abolished servitude and established citizenship for blacks. The 14th Amendment reiterated the protections of life, liberty and property without due process of law as stated in the 5th Amendment and added equal protection under the law. The 15th Amendment which gave blacks the right to vote and spawned later movements for equality such as the Women’s Suffrage Movement which resulted in women’s voting rights via the 19th Amendment and the elimination voting restrictions such as the poll tax noted in the 24th Amendment. Of course the Civil Rights Act (1964) and Voting Rights Act (1965) are federal legacies which again enraged States Rights proponents. The litany of federal court decisions from Brown v. Board of Education (1954) through United States v. Windsor (2013), the latest Supreme Court decision which discredited state laws against gay marriage, are all the progeny of the federal government. Each of these federal acts rankled anti-federalists ire.
The federal government forced big business to allow unionization which protected workers against unfair labor practices and spawned better pay. Governors like Scott Walker decry unions as a cancer. Yet, people forget the mining and steel industry used armed thugs to kill workers who sought to unionize. How is it that just a few generations later, states and Tea Party activists hate unions to which all their police officers, fire fighters and municipal workers belong? Were it not for federal employment laws such as Title VII, Title IX and ADA, where would we be today? At the same time, why are states undermining voting privileges for minorities en masse?
The Tea Party and Republicans rail against inefficiency in the federal government but have not eradicated state corruption. The former Governor of Virginia is on his way to jail for taking kickbacks. Chicago’s former school CEO just pled guilty to corruption charges. States’ rights advocates have not solved crime in cities. States are in charge of education and have not developed higher quality learning environments. States bungled standardized testing and the Common Core. States disproportionately incarcerate minorities and fight against healthcare for millions. So, tell me again why should blacks dislike the federal government? Let’s not be bamboozled.
Dr. Jeffrey Dean Swain is Dean of Campus Ministry at Florida Memorial University and an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice.