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Monday, July 12, 2004

My Remembrance of Ronald Reagan

My Remembrance of Ronald Reagan, an African American Perspective

By John H. Armwood

It is unfortunate though common that at the death of a prominent leader people praise that leader in an uncritical manner. Shakespeare's truism from the play Julius Caesar does not apply to Ronald Reagan. Shakespeare wrote that "the evil that men do lives after them while the good is oft interred with their bones". Reagan is remembered for his leadership in helping to end the cold war but his leadership in an anti black backlash against the civil rights movement is all but ignored. Reagan, in death, has remained as he was in life the "Teflon President". All I now hear is praise being heaped on Ronald Reagan. Even liberal media outlets like CNN and the New York Times have joined in this love fest. I know it is in bad taste to speak ill of the recently departed but truth must be told. Young people must have a balanced account of history, not a self serving one separate and distinct from realty. I, above all else, remember Ronald Reagan as a person who seemed to give tacit, if not overt support to those who supported racism and segregation.

I remember Reagan launching his 1980 presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the brutal murder of three civil rights workers in 1964 by praising "states rights". Those apologists of legal segregation (American apartheid) in the south supported legal segregation under the banner of "states rights". The argument was that local states should be able to decide what policies those states should follow. Southern states in particular wanted to continue the three hundred year old policy of violently violating the human rights of African Americans. This symbolic beginning of Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign signaled to the old south that he was their champion. He was the philosophical heir not just to the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater but the 1968 campaign of former Alabama segregationist governor George Wallace.

During the 1960s Reagan opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act which made segregation in public facilities illegal. During his presidency Reagan opposed the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which authorized the U.S. federal government to monitor local elections in areas of the country which had a history of voting rights abuses. Reagan even vetoed congressional legislation which would have placed economic sanctions on the murderously repressive, segregationist apartheid South African government of that era. He called the racist South African regime "a good friend of the United States". Congress passed this sanction legislation once again with a super majority including many Republicans, over Reagan's veto and it became the law of the land.

I remember Ronald Reagan stating that it was the "right thing" to order the Internal Revenue Service to violate United States law by giving tax subsidies to Bob Jones University, a fundamentalist Christian school which prohibited interracial dating. This conservative religious school through the 1990s still refused to allow interracial dating. Their students, exclusively white, were not allowed to date African Americans, Asians or Hispanics. As a result of this racial policy this school was not eligible to receive federal tax exemptions. In a court case arising out of the Reagan decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Ronald Reagan's actions were illegal. The Supreme Court vote against the Reagan policy was eight justices to one.

I remember Ronald Reagan illegally ordering the mining of the Nicaraguan capital of Managua in violation of U.S. law. Even the father of American conservatism, Barry Goldwater strongly criticized Ronald Reagan for this illegal policy. This was part and parcel of a policy that included trading arms for hostages with the tyrannical Iranian regime.

I remember the Reagan administration arguing that ketchup should be considered a vegetable in determining minimum nutritional standards for poor children under the federal student lunch program.

Were not these Reagan views and policies the very face of evil in America? Would the American majority celebrate the life of a leader who had such extremist views and policies against a majority ethnic subgroup group in America? I think not.

For me, an African American, President Reagan represented the electoral coup d'etat of an eight year evil empire which captured Washington D.C. during the nineteen eighties. Mr. Reagan was arguably the most anti black president of the 20th Century. He clearly was the most anti black president of the post World War II era. We must not whitewash our history. Reagan was the great communicator but his message often was seeded with the fruits of the same character of evil that he decried in the anti Semitic Soviet Union. Yes, I know he signed the Martin Luther King holiday bill. He did it begrudgingly stating at the time "if that is what the people want" and that " in thirty-five years we would know if Martin Luther King was a communist".

Reagan was no friend of African Americans, Hispanics or Asians irrespective of his unseemly multimillion dollar television endorsements contracts he entered into in Japan shortly after he left office. Reagan's was able to present to the world a positive, sunny image which hid from those who were not inclined to look, a deeper, more sinister political agenda.

In conclusion I would like to say that the Reagan presidency made me personally feel less like an American than at any other time in my fifty-one year lifetime. His dream of a America as a city on a hill did not seem to include me. This is Reagan's legacy for me and for many other like minded Americans. This national celebration of the Reagan legacy is an affront to my sense of patriotism, justice and honor. For me is it un-American. It makes me question the sense of fairness and of justice of the American majority population. I can hardly wait for my cloud of sadness to pass as the Reagan legacy fades into the sunset of our surreal national mythology.

John H. Armwood


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