It started innocuously enough. On Sunday, the N.C. Democratic Party tweeted about the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, saying, “Let’s celebrate how far we’ve come but remember the we must fight to keep moving forward.”
Pretty innocuous, right?
Not to Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the NCGOP, who responded via tweetstorm: “After they murdered blacks in Wilmington, [Democrats] passed what they called the White Declaration of Independence.” Another tweet: “From the party that ran a racist campaign of murder and closed the polls to blacks who were republicans, gaining power for 100 years.” Another: “[The Democrats] murdered black people and created the grandfather clause to keep the survivors from voting.” Woodhouse also said the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot was “the result of a long-range campaign strategy by Democratic Party leaders to regain political control of Wilmington, at that time the state’s most populous city.”
Woodhouse isn’t wrong. The Wilmington riot of November 10, 1898—in which a mob of white supremacists overthrew a local government, burned a black newspaper, and murdered dozens of black residents—was part of an organized plot to solidify Democratic control and suppress black voting.
But Woodhouse’s implication—that Democrats are the party of racism—would be accurate only if time froze in 1898. It didn’t. The fact is, many of the racial resentments that took root among Southern Democrats have simply migrated over to the Party of Lincoln, which—ironically but not coincidentally—now reigns supreme in the Old Confederacy.
1898: The Wilmington Race Riot.
1928: Herbert Hoover wins North Carolina’s electoral votes, the only time a Republican will do so from 1876 until 1968.
1948: Dixiecrats break away from the Democratic Party in opposition to Harry Truman’s policies on civil rights and instead throw their weight behind South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, who receives less than 9 percent of the vote in North Carolina.
1964: On July 2, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, after a bipartisan coalition broke a fifty-seven-day filibuster from Southern Democrats. Nearly all Southern Dems voted against it, including B. Everett Jordan and Sam Ervin of North Carolina. After signing the bill, Johnson tells a press aide, “I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come.” The next year, LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act.
1968: Richard Nixon wins North Carolina, the second Republican to do so since Reconstruction. Democrat Hubert Humphrey comes in third, behind segregationist George Wallace.
1972: Jesse Helms, who started out in politics working for pro-segregation Democrats, becomes the first popularly elected Republican senator from North Carolina.
1981: Republican strategist Lee Atwater explains how he wooed Southern whites: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.”
1990: Helms airs the infamous “Hands” ad, which criticizes opponent Harvey Gant, the first black mayor of Charlotte, for supporting “racial quotas.” A narrator says: “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?” Helms wins the election 53–47.
2008: Barack Obama ekes out a victory in North Carolina, the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
2010: Republicans take control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century. Two years later, Republican Pat McCrory is elected governor (and Obama loses the state). The Republicans start drawing new congressional and legislative districts.
2016: Federal judges throw out those legislative and congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, drawn to minimize the power of the black vote. In addition, a court rejects the state’s voter ID law, saying voting restrictions “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Also, the NCGOP ousts Hasan Harnett, its first black chairman, who writes Woodhouse an email asking, “Am I not white enough for you?”
2017: The Republicans have supermajorities in both the state House and Senate. Every Republican legislator is white.