By Brian Gilmore

June 8, 2004

As the glowing tributes continue to pour in for the late President Ronald Reagan, it is not likely people will read or hear tributes from many African-Americans.

Soon after entering public office, Reagan made clear his views toward blacks. He put into effect a number of policies that had strong negative impacts on the lives and aspirations of many African-Americans.

He delivered his first major campaign speech for the presidency in 1980 in Philadelphia, Miss., the town where Klansmen murdered three civil-rights workers in 1964 during "Freedom Summer." By delivering a speech in a town that was once a hotbed of racial hatred, he upset African-Americans and emboldened old-guard segregationists.

Second, he opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When he was running for governor of California in 1966, Reagan assailed the Fair Housing Act, saying, "If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so."

Third, early in his presidential tenure, Reagan granted tax-exempt status to schools that segregate. For 12 years since President Nixon's term, government tax policy had moved in a direction that took a hard line on schools that discriminate. Reagan tried to reverse that trend but his efforts fortunately failed.

Fourth, while Nixon appointed William Rehnquist, an ardent foe of desegregation efforts, to the Supreme Court, Reagan elevated him to chief justice in 1986.

Reagan also staunchly refused to support sanctions against the racist regime in South Africa when he was president. African-Americans strongly supported economic sanctions against the country's government, and eventually Congress overrode Reagan's veto in 1986 to pass sanctions into law that signaled to South Africa that its apartheid days were numbered.

Finally, in October 1983, Reagan disgraced the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. The Senate had overwhelmingly passed the King holiday bill by 78-22 that month. Despite popular support for it, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., leader of the opposition to the bill, tried to get the FBI to open King's files to prove King was a communist sympathizer.

Reagan was asked about Helms' underhanded tactic at a news conference. He didn't disavow it. Instead, Reagan said, "We'll know in about 35 years, won't we?" It was a disgraceful moment that insulted many Americans around the nation.

While Reagan did sign the King holiday into law, Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., said that "we're dragging him into the room kicking and screaming."

Reagan adopted the Republican Party's Southern Strategy of winning over the votes of Southern whites who opposed civil rights. Time magazine writer Jack White wrote in November 2002 that Ronald Reagan "set a standard for exploiting white anger and resentment" over the years. Reagan did not hesitate to perpetuate an ugly myth about single black mothers receiving government assistance with the phrase "welfare queens." Nor did he shy away from using the word "quota" to fight moves toward affirmative action that help people of color and women obtain fairness in education and in the workforce.

Reagan's policies -- not nostalgic sentiments -- should determine the late president's legacy. For African-Americans, those policies were destructive.

Brian Gilmore is a lawyer and poet with two collections of poetry, including "Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: A Poem for Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra" (Karibu Books, 2000). He can be reached at


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White supremacist posters on campuses play on ignorance and fear within the very institutions that should be our...

Trump's politics are not the problem.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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