How Black Media and a Tax Cheat Convinced Black People To Switch Political Parties
History, Black Culture, Politics

How Black Media and a Tax Cheat Convinced Black People To Switch Political Parties

author | Mack Major

I'd like to share a little known but powerful historical fact that is never cited by Democrats to confirm the big party switch theory, nor by Republicans to refute it.

This will answer the question and solve the riddle of why black Americans collectively switched political alliances: going from voting almost exclusively Republican, the party of Abraham Lincoln and the Union, to voting almost exclusively for Democrats―the party of the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. So, hold on! This gets interesting.

Black Americans collectively switched political alliances because of the influence of two men:

  • a black newspaper editor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named Robert Vann, and
  • a wealthy white investor named Mike Benedum.

Now let me introduce you to Mike Benedum: He made his fortune drilling for oil across West Virginia and as far away as Louisiana and Texas; and he was great at it. Benedum found more oil in more places around the world than anyone else in human history. He amassed a fortune of hundreds of millions in today's money.

Benedum Michael
IMAGE: Philanthropist Michael Benedum, nickname the “Great Wildcatter.'

Benedum was born 100 miles south of Pittsburgh in the town of Bridgeport, West Virginia. The youngest of six children, his father was a personal close friend of Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. When family fortunes took a turn for the worse, the young Benedum left school at sixteen and set out to find his own fortune in the world.

After working at several dead-end jobs, he boarded a train headed 70 miles west to start a new job, and his life changed forever. While on the train he observed an elderly man searching for his seat. He got up and insisted that the elderly gentleman take his seat. As the man sat down, they began a conversation that set Benedum on a new course that lasted for the next seventy years.

The elderly man was John Worthington, and he ran the entire operation for Standard Oil in the West Virginia region. Standard Oil was the gigantic corporation founded by John D. Rockefeller; and Worthington was one of his main lieutenants. Impressed with the young man, he offered him a job on the spot. When asked by Benedum if there was a future in oil, the older stranger smiled at him and replied, "Oh yes, there's a future." To which Benedum responded "Then I'll do it." He never made it to the original job he had boarded the train for.

Benedum went on to make a fortune worth well over half a billion dollars today that continues to increase through different established foundations. But wildcatting is a fast-paced money-making venture. The losses come fast; and so do the wins. Benedum failed to pay his taxes on time and fell into trouble with the Internal Revenue Service that lasted through several Republican administrations, thus turning him into a strong enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic Party.

As the 1932 Presidential race drew near, Benedum was hoping to get Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, into office to help alleviate his tax problems. And this is where Robert Vann becomes part of the equation.

vann robert
IMAGE: Robert Vann; Editor and Publisher of The Pittsburgh Courier.

Benedum saw his opportunity through the black vote. Doing a bit of digging around Pittsburgh, he discovered that Robert Vann—the head of the largest black newspaper in the city—was in need of a loan to expand his printing plant. So Benedum made his move.

Benedum loaned the money to Robert Vann and secured a meeting with him; which Vann was all too happy to accept.

Robert Vann was an ambitious black newspaper editor who worked his way from writing short stories and articles in the local black paper to establishing one of the most influential highly read black publications in America. At its height, his newspaper The Pittsburgh Courier was the most widely read black newspaper in the country.

Vann had grown increasingly frustrated with the Republican governors of Pennsylvania, often using his paper to drum up support for legislation that would legally end the bigotry often practiced by white businesses against black patrons in Pittsburgh. These bills were vetoed once they reached the desk of the governor—so discontent with the Republican Party was already brewing inside of him.

At the meeting with the wealthy oil titan, Vann was asked a very poignant question by Benedum: “What has the Negro ever gotten by voting the Republican ticket?”

To which Vann dejectedly replied, “Nothing.”

Like most blacks of his era, Vann had been an ardent supporter of the Republican party. Most black households had a picture of Abraham Lincoln, the hero of emancipation, hanging on their wall, on a shelf, a mantel piece or in some other prominent place in the home.

But Vann had started to notice that much was never gained from voting the straight Republican ticket: particularly for himself. He was an ambitious man who sought political clout and appointments that would place him closer to the center of political power.

Vann had used his paper The Pittsburgh Courier to throw its full weight of support behind Republican Warren Harding in the 1920 election, only to watch Harding offer nothing in return for the support; even refusing to support anti-lynching legislation out of fear of offending his Southern white supporters.

After the death of Harding, he ardently supported his successor Calvin Coolidge for election in 1924. Vann even served as vice chairman of a committee to get out the Negro vote; and was again denied any kind of appointment after Coolidge's victory. The appointment he wanted went to the editor of a rival black paper in Philadelphia instead.

Vann flirted with the idea of supporting a Democrat candidate for the first time in 1928, when Alfred Smith ran for President. Vann liked the fact that Smith supported anti-lynching law. But black people overwhelmingly supported Herbert Hoover that year; and Smith lost in a landslide. Plus, Vann had floated the idea around to the local Democrat boss in Pittsburgh, and basically felt snubbed by him when told that there weren't enough black votes in Pittsburgh to justify Vann getting any special appointments in any new incoming administration.

By 1932, Vann was fed up. America was experiencing an economic crash under President Hoover, which had left one-third of the black residents of Pittsburgh in need of government assistance.

And to make matters worse, after years of using the influence of his large national paper to drum up support from black voters to help place several Republican candidates into political power, he had received nothing but an appointment to a World War I memorial committee in 1928, which he promptly turned down and blasted in an editorial in his paper.

So, Vann at the suggestion of Mike Benedum courted a meeting with then Democrat presidential candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt, also known as FDR.

After successfully securing a meeting with FDR, he returned to Pittsburgh, fired up about convincing black America to throw its full weight of support behind the Democrat candidate for President. But it wasn't going to be an easy task. Black people loved the Republican Party back then the way they faithfully support the Democrat Party today.

Vann made his case through articles and editorials in his paper. But his most powerful move came from a speech given at the St. James AME Church in Pittsburgh that was highly effective at turning the black vote against the Republican Party and swinging it successfully into the camp of the Democratic Party―a move which has had lasting ramifications for American politics and the black community for the last 80 plus years. In the close to his speech Vann urged his black listeners to "turn the picture of Abraham Lincoln to the wall. This year I see Negroes voting a Democratic ticket."

Vann made sure the speech in its entirety was reprinted in his newspaper under the headline "This Year I See Millions Of Negroes Turning the Picture of Abraham Lincoln to the Wall." Other black newspapers across the country reprinted the speech, and it caught fire, going viral. It had a clear effect on the election results.

Franklin D Roosevelt handily won the election of 1932, in large part with the support of many newly converted black voters. Most of all, the Democratic political machine now knew they had a new ally by courting the black vote.

FDR was grateful for the effort put in by Vann to secure his election to office. When approached by the Democrat boss of Pennsylvania about offering Vann an appointment in his new administration as a reward for the work he had put in, Roosevelt settled on giving Vann the appointment of Special Assistant to the United States Attorney General in the Justice Department.

FDR picked that position for Vann because it wouldn't require any Senate confirmation vote. FDR didn't want to risk a battle with Southern Senators over the appointment of a Negro to such a prestigious sounding job.

» If you want to talk about the big party switch, that's where it happened at. It never happened with racist white Southern Democrats switching to become Republicans because they felt slighted about civil rights legislation. It happened with many disaffected black voters who felt betrayed and taken for granted by the Republican Party. Black voters switched to support the Democratic candidate, who ran on “the promise” of supporting causes important to black Americans.

Black people were basically urged, dare I say duped into supporting the Democrat Party over the Republicans; this was a powerfully fateful decision that has negatively affected the black community for close to 90 years now.

I doubt seriously if Vann were alive today that he would still encourage black people to continue to vote for Democrats, given the way blacks have fared so poorly under Democrat control and Progressive policies. He even warned FDR during a visit to Pittsburgh, where Vann was specifically honored by Democrat Party bigwigs and his silent investor Mike Benedum: "Negroes should never again blindly serve any political master. I came to the Democrat Party because the Republican Party no longer serves the interest of the people. And when this party gets to where they no longer offer my people any service, I'll either go back to the Republican Party or to some other party."

Eventually Vann broke fellowship with the Roosevelt Administration once he realized he had been given a mere token position with no real power or tasks of importance; and that the new President had no intentions on keeping the promises that had been made, particularly pertaining to anti-lynching legislation. Vann only held his position under FDR for 3 years; and by the end of FDR’s first term he was no longer a supporter of the Democrat Party.

Vann spoke about his experience in Washington DC:

“It was about 6 weeks before I got a desk to my liking. I had to put up with what I could find...It was some time before I could have a stenographer assigned to me. In fact, I was in the department about a month before they knew I was there.”

Vann got put into a tiny inconspicuous office; and no one wanted to work with him because he was Black. He made numerous attempts to get better working conditions, but his own boss Attorney General Homer Cummings refused to meet with him. In his short 3 years in Washington DC, Vann never worked on any case of importance. He left Washington dejected.

In 1940, Vann made an announcement to his readers in The Pittsburgh Courier stating that Roosevelt had strayed far from his original principles and policies toward Black people. And that it was a mistake for Black voters to help elect a Northern Democrat to the Presidency; urging the election of Wendell L. Wilkie and the restoration to power of the Republican party.

Unfortunately, Vann wasn’t able to reform his allegiance with the Republican party. He died October of that year, thus sealing his legacy as the man most responsible for switching black folk's allegiance from the Republican Party to the Democrat Party.

** To learn more about the Left's attempt to disempower Black voters and to keep them in last place in society, download a copy of NEGROPHOBIA: Why Black America Never Seems To Get Better.

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