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Opinion | Learning Caution From a Late Columnist

Instead of this, white racists simply left the Democratic Party for the Republican one, and kept “racist politics alive” there.

As Wicker put it, “Racist politics, in the final analysis, depends on exclusion of Negroes from voting.” As he summarized:

“The disenfranchisement of Southern Negroes in this century resulted directly from the corrupt and violent competition of Southern Bourbons and Southern agrarians for the Negro vote in the late 19th century. Fearing the Negro would tip the balance against them, the Bourbons raised the flag of white supremacy and aroused the poor-white agrarians against the Negro; Bourbons and agrarians then combined in the name of white solidarity to eliminate the Negro from the electorate as if he did not exist.”

Now you see establishment Republicans joining together to do the very same thing with a wave of voter suppression bills across the country.

And this is not just the work of politicians: A majority of Republican voters are also in favor of many of these voter restrictions that would disproportionately affect Black people. According to a Pew Research Center report issued Thursday, a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters now oppose the automatic registration of all eligible citizens to vote and support more voter identification laws and purging voter lists of voters who haven’t recently voted or confirmed their registration.

Wicker ended on a note of optimism, that there would eventually be “white competition to win the Negro vote,” and “if so, the competition surely will mean a new volatility in Southern politics and society, a new freedom for the white politician to move beyond race to the broader issues of national life, and a new opportunity for the Negro to have his needs considered instead of his skin.”

That day never came.

In the moment, Wicker’s optimism was understandable. As columnists, we exist and write in the moment, trying our best to view events in context. But, sometimes, too often, we misjudge the meaning of events unfolding around us.

One thing this column by Wicker has taught us was this: no matter how hopeful the moment, no matter how great the advance, never — ever — underestimate white supremacy.

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