Editorial: Republican Party’s birth

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 11, 2016

Dr. Ada Fisher is determined to prove that more African Americans should feel comfortable in the Republican Party. Hence she has published “I am a Republican,” a 32-page history of African Americans in the North Carolina Republican Party — a party that might not have started without them.

Fisher is a retired physician, not a historian, and she readily admits she needs an editor. The booklet has the feel of a first draft. She has nevertheless done a good job of pulling together information about leading African American Republicans whose contributions to the state are worthy of note. Early examples:

John Adams Hyman served four terms as a state senator and was North Carolina’s first black member of Congress, serving in the U.S. House from 1875 to 1877.

James Walker Hood — known here for his role in the formation of Livingstone College — presided over the first statewide political convention for blacks demanding civil and political rights. He was among the founders of the state Republican Party.

James Henry Harris, also among the party’s founders, started a newspaper, The North Carolina Republican, and helped found the first school for blind African-Americans in the country, a branch of the North Carolina Institute for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind.

The booklet spans the period from Reconstruction to the present and includes mention of William “Pete” Kennedy’s service on Salisbury City Council. Appropriately, Fisher also includes herself, the state’s Republican National Committeewoman since 2008 and the first black woman to serve in the position.

Remarkable leadership emerged after the Civil War, only to be pushed down again under Jim Crow.

“The founders and backbone for the emerging free black communities were men of substance — journeymen, apprentices, tradesmen, artisans and entrepreneurs,” Fisher writes. “Their willingness to sacrifice their livelihoods and lives in their struggle to be recognized as men, citizens and contributors to a better society is unlike that of any other period in this nation’s history.”

The N.C. Republican Party, organized in 1867 at a convention of freedmen and whites, has changed from its Reconstruction roots. Fisher makes the case for diversifying the party’s ranks again. Whether she wins any converts remains to be seen. But she has succeeded in proving that there have been African Americans in the state GOP from the organization’s start, and they’re not all in the distant past.

Booklets may be ordered, $5 each, from Dr. Ada Fisher, P.O. Box 777, Salisbury, NC 28145. For more information, contact Fisher at DrFisher@DrAdaFisher.org or 704-762-5144.