There is a nice photo of Coretta Scott King standing behind Ronald Reagan as he grudgingly signs the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday bill in the Rose Garden back in 1983. The most appropriate caption for the photo would be “Checkmate!,” since Reagan did not want to sign the bill and was no fan of Dr. King, or the reforms his leadership secured.
Republican apologists for Reagan are quick to note his signing of the King holiday legislation as indicative of his commitment to equality. But Reagan’s dismal track record on issues of racial injustice is not likely to be recounted in much detail during the GOP convention in Summer ’08. For that, you can read Alec Dubro’s TomPaine.com article “Reagan White As Snow,” which lays out the former President’s sorry record of opposition to civil rights. Dubro quotes a nut graph from Sydney Blumenthal’s article in The Guardian.”
Reagan opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (calling it “humiliating to the South”), and ran for governor of California in 1966 promising to wipe the Fair Housing Act off the books. “If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house,” he said, “he has a right to do so.” After the Republican convention in 1980, Reagan traveled to the county fair in Neshoba, Mississippi, where, in 1964, three Freedom Riders had been slain by the Ku Klux Klan. Before an all-white crowd of tens of thousands, Reagan declared: “I believe in states’ rights.”
But it was in foreign affairs that he showed that he could rise above mere opportunism and flaunt his racism for all the world to see. He was the best friend that South Africa’s apartheid government had in the developed world.
Reagan consistently opposed taking any stand against the Pretoria regime, no matter what their sins. His administration created a policy called “constructive engagement,” which meant no sanctions.
When the pressure for sanctions grew too great, even within the Republican Party, Reagan refused to relent, claiming the sanctions would hurt black workers. In 1986, Reagan vetoed a congressional sanctions vote, this time claiming that it would help the communist ANC. Moreover, “the U.S., he added, ‘must stay and build, not cut and run’.” When Congress overrode the veto, Reagan made sure that the law was barely carried out.
All of this would be history, except for the GOP’s effort to use Reagan as their poster-boy for Republican philosophy and values, since the current Republican President’s approval ratings are abysmal. As Dubro notes:
…Reagan showed that he was an implacable foe of racial integration of any sort, domestic or foreign, and would use any tactic to block its implementation. If any of the Republican candidates for president are ignorant of Reagan’s wretched conduct, it’s because they refuse to look.