- Race over Party: Black Politics and Partisanship in Late Nineteenth-Century Boston by Millington W. Bergeson-Lockwood
In Race over Party, Millington W. Bergeson-Lockwood explores a fierce battle waged by a group of African Americans in Boston who recognized the peril of attaching their political fortunes to a Republican Party that had become apathetic to questions of civil rights. By criticizing the party of Lincoln, and later strategically casting votes for Democratic candidates, black independents "stood steadfast in their dedication to racial solidarity over partisanship." While initially seeking "partisan middle ground," black independents eventually "were willing to risk Democratic victories if that meant sending the message to both parties that African Americans no longer would be mere pawns in electoral politics" (6). By the end of the nineteenth century, black independents discovered that this coalition-building strategy was also a dead-end and soon abandoned party politics altogether. Instead, black Bostonians redirected their energy toward building new [End Page 663] organizations that focused on antilynching, racial uplift, and demanding the protection of civil and political rights.
Race over Party follows the story of the black independent movement in Boston through a three-part narrative. Part 1, "All Outside Is the Sea," traces the first schisms within the Republican Party during Reconstruction as early independent leaders issued warnings about the incomplete nature of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Combined with the rise of Liberal Republicans, the burgeoning rift with the Republican Party offered a strategic opening to those already skeptical about the party's commitment to black voters. Part 2, "No Longer Pliant Tools," offers a rich description of black independents' political ideology. Chapters 4 and 5 in this section—which explore then governor Benjamin Butler's reelection campaign and the struggle to receive appointed positions from Republican and Democratic Party leaders—are the most powerful in the book and show black independents forming their own organizations, challenging their political rivals in the press, and clearly articulating their long-term goals for their movement. Part 3, "To the Negro Alone Politics Shall Bring No Fruit," examines how black independents lost faith in partisan politics by the end of the nineteenth century. Realizing that both Republicans and Democrats were unwilling to enact federal measures to punish white lynch mobs, black independents pulled away from traditional party politics and turned their attention to establishing new civil rights organizations that would be grounded in the concerns of black Americans. Mobilized by the terrifying increase of lynchings in the South during the 1890s, and disgusted by the unwillingness of the existing political parties to propose serious legislation to stop the rampant racist violence, organizations like the Colored National League, the Massachusetts Racial Protective Association, and the Women's Era Club would become "the nucleus around which [African Americans] in New England and the country would rally" (137).
Race over Party provides an intellectual and cultural history of a set of politicians who increasingly found themselves without a party. Scholars of the post-Reconstruction black counterpublic sphere will likely be familiar with the key figures of the black independent movement. Men and women like Edwin Garrison Walker, James Monroe Trotter, Pauline Hopkins, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, and George Downing waged battles in both the messy world of local machine politics and the loftier realm of ideas and culture. Surrounded by a sea of Republicanism, black independents sailed against the main headwinds of late nineteenth-century African American politics. One of Boston's leading African American newspapers called black leaders who supported the Democratic Party "traitors to the cause of the black men" (49). Black independents rejected this characterization [End Page 664] and conceived of their movement as a method that would allow black voters to extract meaningful concessions from the two-party system. "I shall be satisfied," claimed James Monroe Trotter, "if I can feel that the colored people are voting as their judgment dictates. I feel that they have got into a second slavery, and...