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The Late Great Congressional Black Caucus

Askia Muhammad | 9/6/2012, 2:55 p.m.

Very soon the nation's capital will witness discussions and debates about the major issues of our day, along with wall-to-wall parties. It will be the 42nd Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus [CBC] - the "conscience of the Congress." It may be the last time the CBC can wear that title in truth. What?

That's right, the CBC is on the cusp of its largest membership ever and for the first time there may be three - count them - three Black Republican members of Congress serving with 44 or more Black Democrats, and one of the Republicans is already planning its destruction.

There have been distinguished Black Republicans in Congress in this modern era. The first Blacks to ever serve in Congress were Reconstruction Republicans. Even in the 20th century, Chicago's Oscar DePriest was a Republican.

Blacks were Republicans because President Lincoln freed the slaves, and the Democrats represented the interests of the slave owners.

Then, after President Lyndon Johnson, pressured by the Civil Rights Movement, passed the Voting Rights Act and other important laws, the Republicans then saw and exploited White hatred for Black people with President Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy" which flipped the script, replacing White "Dixie-crats" with White Republicans. Black voters then migrated wholesale to the Democratic Party.

The Congressional Black Caucus was founded in 1971 with a handful of Black Democrats in the House of Representatives. The CBC has grown to 43 members and promises to increase to as many as 46 Black members after the 2012 elections.

Now, for the first time in history, a Black female Republican - Saratoga Springs, Utah Mayor Mia Love - is a shoo-in to be elected, and she promises to join the CBC and wreck it. There are currently two Republican members of Congress: Reps. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Allen West of Florida. West is a member of the CBC, Scott is not.

Before Scott and West were elected in 2010, there have been a handful of Black Republicans in Congress since the 1990s. The most prominent of them was Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma. Watts rose higher than any Black man in Republican history. He became Chair of the House Republican Caucus, the fourth highest position in the party.

Watts resigned from the leadership and retired from Congress without explanation, but I reckon it was because of his frustration at the racism he felt behind closed doors from his fellow Republicans. Watts did not join the CBC, but his contemporary Rep. Gary Franks (R-Conn.) did, but he was marginalized in the organization because of his contrary views. He was not permitted in CBC strategy meetings. He was not even allowed to attend the first 30 minutes of the group's weekly Wednesday luncheon meetings. But he was alone then.

I thought I was the only one thinking that if Love gets elected this November, beginning with her inauguration in January 2013 she would bring about the subversion of everything for which the CBC stands. But she has already said so publicly. She would not be alone however.