In his latest Wall Street Journal columns Jason L. Riley highlights the dramatic changes that have taken place over the last 58 years:
In 1964 only 6% of blacks in Mississippi were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the region. Two years later, that number had climbed to 60%, the highest in the South. “In every southern state, the gains were striking,” wrote the late political scientist Abigail Thernstrom. “Sometimes good legislation works precisely as initially intended.”
In 1970, there were fewer than 1,500 black elected officials in the U.S. Today there are more than 10,000, and they have included mayors of large cities with significant black populations—Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Washington—as well as governors, congressmen, senators, a twice-elected black president and the current vice president. Black voter registration in the South, where most blacks live, is higher than in other parts of the country and, in Mississippi and Georgia, black voter turnout has outpaced white turnout.
In 1964 even Southern towns with overwhelmingly black populations had white mayors and white sheriffs. Today most Southern states the percentage of black sheriffs is much more closely aligned with the percentage of black population than in Northern states. In Illinois fro example 15% of its population is black but only 4% of sheriffs are black.
That’s just the start of the differences between then and now. 58 years ago stores, restaurants, hotels, restrooms, and even public drinking fountains were all segregated by race. Mr. Riley concludes that “the Democrats are stuck in 1964”. And what’s worse they’re patronizing black voters:
Why treat the black electorate like helpless children? It’s clear that when blacks are sufficiently motivated, they have little trouble meeting the same requirements that other groups meet and casting a vote. Democrats continue to claim that Republicans are advocating modern-day poll taxes and literacy tests in disguise, even as evidence to the contrary continues to mount.
Actually, that’s not quite fair to Democrats. According to the polls, most Democrats—as well as most Republicans, liberals, conservatives, blacks and whites, don’t object to things like requiring people to prove who they say they are before voting. Liberal activists and their friends in the political press like to obsess over such things, but outside that bubble none of this is especially controversial.
I think that the exaggerated claims of racism and little or no social progress are only possible because people today are so ignorant of the past.
Does racism still exist? Of course it does. And we’re still far from perfect. But the strides that we’ve made have been astonishing over a relatively short period of time.