"A Vote for the Man and Not the Party": African American Party Politics in Baltimore and the Election of 1920

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 12:00 PM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Dennis Doster, University of Maryland at College Park
Over the past four decades, a considerable number of historians have produced works examining and debating the reasons urban African Americans abandoned the Republican Party and flocked en masse to the Democratic Party by the mid-1930s. This scholarship has particular resonance today as scholars of various disciplines re-examine and question African Americans and their relationship to both political parties in the wake of the country’s election of its first African American president. This paper engages in these discussions of party politics and the African American community, but moves away from the national political landscape to focus on local politics and how the local level complicates our understanding of these issues. Specifically, this work chronicles the election of 1920 and the campaign of William Ashbie Hawkins, an African American lawyer and civil rights activist who was the first black man to run for the United States Senate seat in the state of Maryland. An analysis of Hawkins’ campaign centered in Baltimore reveals the presence of an impressive black independent political movement with roots extending decades earlier. Thus Hawkins’ campaign and its aftermath in Baltimore reveal that African American membership in the Republican Party prior to the 1930s did not translate into blind allegiance to the party and its politicians at all times, and it did not preclude African Americans from negotiating and affiliating with politicians of other political parties in order to address civil rights issues, specifically in local politics.
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