Part 2 

Conservatism and Color

School choice is the focal point for fellow conservative Martin Brown, executive director of Family Foundation, an organization with a mailing list of 27,000 families that lobbies the General Assembly on family and education issues. Brown is concerned that the poor quality of education in many urban public schools is destroying opportunity for young African-Americans. Public education is, according to Brown, "a government-controlled monopoly," that needs to be opened up to competition.

While many liberal black leaders and organizations, including the NAACP, oppose school choice, Brown believes that as more people wake up to the failure of urban public schools to educate their children they will support a move towards greater choice.

"You've created a permanent underclass. Kids are relegated to working in the fast-food industry," Brown says. "It's (school choice is) the civil rights movement of this generation."

While Brown's main policy focus is school choice, what stunned him into realizing he was a conservative was a far more explosive moral issue: abortion. Brown was originally a progressive who believed that the abortion debate was about a woman's right to choose. He even acted on this pro-choice viewpoint when in 1987 he drove the 14-year-old daughter of a friend to an abortion clinic. About a year later, he read a passage from the Bible that convinced him that the unborn were persons and he saw "Silent Scream," a film that graphically depicts an abortion procedure.

"She needed an abortion," Brown says. "I escorted her to an abortion clinic. I was not aware that she had a little one inside. I saw the video "Silent Scream." It helped cement my position on abortion. I was convinced that the fetus is a baby. I believe that we should protect the life of the unborn child in the same way we would protect the life of a one-week-old baby."

While abortion, school choice and family-centered initiatives all can be visceral issues, nothing draws more fire from their opponents than criticism of affirmative action.

Brown believes that affirmative action programs were valuable at one time, but have now outworn their usefulness. The emergence of the black middle class in the last 20 years has made racial preferences unnecessary, Brown says.

"I think the doors are open and now it's our responsibility to take advantage of these opportunities that our grandfathers literally died for," Brown says.

But to Salim Khalfani, executive director of the NAACP Virginia State Conference, affirmative action is still vital to African-Americans.

"Leveling the playing field has only been a 35-year thing," Khalfani says. "There have been 400 years of enslavement, Jim Crow, segregation."

Black conservatives support dismantling affirmative action for the same reason they are on the front line of so many conservative issues: They are in the pocket of the Republican Party, according to Khalfani.

"There have always been people who parrot the cause of people who try to hold us back," Khalfani says. "If the right wing comes up with another issue then that's the issue for black conservatives. I think that people should be independent."

While black conservatives say that they are trying to help the African-American community, they are doing a great deal to harm it, according to Khalfani. Initiatives such as school choice, welfare reform and mandatory minimum criminal sentences strike hardest at the black community.

"It's almost a demonization of the black community," Khalfani says. "We are the criminal black people, the welfare black people, the affirmative action black people."

While the Republican Party was founded by abolitionists and elected "The Great Emancipator" Abraham Lincoln, it has since become a party that panders to the worst of white issues, Khalfani said. In recent months the NAACP was involved in a fight involving the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the South Carolina Statehouse, and is locked into a contest over the adoption of April as Confederate Heritage Month in Virginia. The refusal of Republican officials and candidates to denounce the celebration of the Confederacy has angered Khalfani and other civil rights activists.

"They are a party that promotes the Confederacy and is hostile to the human issues," Khalfani says.

For Del. Harris the battle over the Confederate flag does not rank as high on his list as issues that have a tangible impact on people's lives.

"They're (blacks) not as concerned about Confederate history as with their children going to a decent school where they can have a good job," he says. "If they want to boycott, they should boycott the black rap artists who defame black women."

Harris says the Confederate flag issue is just another example of orthodox black leaders trying to jump start a movement that is sputtering out as more African-Americans realize that it is the right, not the left, that now has the solutions for Americans of all colors.

Harris says these traditional groups want to ennoble victimization instead of stressing the opportunity African-Americans have today.

"It's liberal turf guarding," Harris says. "Jesse Jackson has never worked an honest day in his life, but sports $1,000 suits, drives fancy cars and sends his kids to private schools."

[image-1](Chad Hunt / Style Weekly)Bishop Gerald Glen, pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, is one of a few black ministers who supports Republican candidates such as former congressional primary candidate Steve Martin. Glen concedes that if only 400-plus black voters had chosen to vote for Martin, he could have inched out a victory over fellow Republican Eric Cantor.It is easy to forget that the African-American community was once a core Republican constituency. After the Civil War, when blacks voted they pulled the Republican lever. In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt claimed an overwhelming majority of the black vote in his presidential bid. Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge also drew almost unanimous support from African-Americans in their presidential campaigns.

It wasn't until Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that the "Party of Lincoln" started losing black voters to the Democrats. But even in 1960 when John F. Kennedy's famous phone call to a jailed Martin Luther King Jr. shored up his standing in the black community, Richard Nixon still received 30 percent of the black vote.

University of Virginia's Sabato says the Democratic Party's visible support of civil rights was the central reason for shifting voting patterns.

In the last three decades, Republicans have not fared so well with African-Americans. U.S. Sen. Robert Dole received anywhere from 5 to 19 percent of black votes in Virginia in his 1996 bid for the presidency, depending on what polls you read, Sabato says. Oliver North received less than 5 percent in his 1994 failed Senate race. George Allen in 1993 and Jim Gilmore in 1997 fared better receiving one-fifth of the black vote in their successful gubernatorial bids.

Many political pundits, including Sabato, credit Gilmore's strong showing, in part, to former Gov. Doug Wilder's refusal to endorse Democratic candidate Don Beyer.

Looking to this fall's Senate race, Sabato says Allen shouldn't expect to do as well among black voters as he did in his run for governor. Allen is up against an incumbent this time around, and the Democratic Party is not in as much disarray as it was in the 1993 race.

Attempting to compile the number of African-American Republicans in Virginia is a guessing game because voters do not register by party in the commonwealth. But black conservatives are becoming more visible on the state and national level. Not only do they have a representative in the Virginia General Assembly; there are a number of other important officials who are African-American Republicans such as Virginia Secretary of Education Wilbert Bryant, Department of Social Services Community Director Juliet Davis, and Alexandria Vice-Mayor Bill Cleveland. Virginia even has a conservative black caucus: Virginians For Black Inclusion in Government (VIG)

Director of the Virginia Council on Human Rights Roxie Raines Kornegay started VIG in 1996. At the first meeting there were five people. Today the organization boasts a membership of more than 100 members.

Just a few years ago it would have been unthinkable to see a large number of blacks meeting to discuss Republican ideas and policies. But as African-Americans have become more successful economically, and as racism has subsided, more are open to a different way of thinking, Sabato says.

"Gradually over time there is less racism. The intensity of bias is less," Sabato said. "I really believe that over time African-Americans will become fully two party."

That doesn't scare executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia Craig Bieber. Bieber says that black Republican votes will be "statistically insignificant" because Republican Party policies do not serve the interests of minorities.

"They were adamantly opposed to Motor Voter," Bieber says. "They instituted voter identification. This hearkens back to Jim Crow and Massive Resistance."

While few Republicans expect a swift change in black voting patterns, the party is laboring to pull in people who have not been GOP supporters. Executive Director of the Republican Party of Virginia Ed Matricardi said that the party is planning outreach conferences in urban areas to target African-American, lower-income and female voters. He believes that these forums will be an excellent way to introduce traditionally Democratic voters in cities such as Richmond, Arlington and Norfolk to the GOP.

"We don't need to hit a home run," Matricardi says. "We're trying to put together a couple singles."

The African-American church is an important if behind-the-scenes part of that strategy. The pulpit, the cradle of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, also plays a vital role in delivering the message of self-reliance of today's black conservatives.

Bishop Gerald Glenn, pastor of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, is one of a small but growing group of African-American ministers who publicly support Republican candidates. When Gov. Jim Gilmore ran for office he endorsed him. He even planted a Steve Martin sign in his front yard during the June Republican Congressional primary after the candidate stopped by his church to explain his positions. He now wishes that he could have done more for Martin.

"I was very, very bothered that we couldn't have done more," Glenn says. "I have 1,500 members in my congregation. I felt bad we didn't put in more effort to swing 400 votes."

Since being selected as chairman of Allen's Senate race, Harris says 12 to 15 black pastors from Richmond, Roanoke and Norfolk have expressed interest in quietly helping with the campaign. "A bunch of African-Americans are involved, " Harris says. "A lot of pastors have called about the campaign."

Whether from the pulpit or the floor of the legislature, Harris believes that as more conservative African-Americans in positions of influence publicly discuss their own politics, they will find an audience eager for fresh ideas to solve old problems.

"Some of the ideas that the old guard are trumpeting are fading out of fashion even with the staunchest members of the left-wing movement. There is a void in effective black leadership," Harris says. "It will be black conservatives who will lead the cause for underprivileged people whether they are black or white."

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