- Faith & Family
What do James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston and current Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll all have in common? The same thing as 7,746 others in Miami-Dade County [M-DC] — they are all Black Floridians and they’re card-carrying members of the Republican Party.
To say they are a distinct minority would be an understatement, given the fact that at last count there were 371,000 total members in the M-DC Republican Party. But who are they? How do they think? And, what pressures do they face when asked to defend their political bent particularly with the first Black in history — a Democrat — serving as our nation’s president?
Having their say
Ted Lyons, for instance, has been a registered member of the “Grand Ole Party” since 1978 — long before Barack Obama’s march to the White House began. A proud graduate of Florida’s only historically Black college, Florida A&M University, Lyons describes himself as “one of the happiest persons in America to have a Black family in the White House.” And he knows a little more about the White House than most: Lyons served in the federal government for eight years during the Reagan administration as did another prominent Black Republican from Miami — the late Arthur Teele. Lyons says one’s party affiliation shouldn’t be an issue.
“We have to participate in both parties,” said Lyons, who currently serves as the public relations chair for the Miami-Dade County Republican Party.
T. Willard Fair, longtime chair of Miami’s Urban League says plainly, “I sympathize with what is best for my community.”
The notion that being a Republican undermines one’s “Blackness” is one that rankles many. Barbara Howard says she has been painted as a “persona non grata . . . public enemy number one in the community.”
“Why do you call me names?” she asks. “I thought we were free.
Howard believes she has a right to her own views, especially having come of age just outside of Montgomery, Alabama — ground zero for nation’s civil rights movement.
Changing parties and shifting battlegrounds
It was not so long in U.S. history that all of the states south of the Mason-Dixon Line (including Florida) were Southern Democratic strongholds, controlled for generations by the so-called “Dixiecrats.” White men like Orval Faubus in Arkansas, James Eastland in Mississippi and George Wallace and Bull Connor both from Alabama were proud and prominent members of the Democratic Party.
Conversely, people like Ida B. Wells, James Meredith, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Sr. were just a few of the more notable Blacks that were part of the Republican Party.
Fair, Howard, and Lyons all point to synchronicity of views on families and family values with the Republican Party as key reasons why they each believe that the GOP has the answers to what is ailing Black Miami.
“There is nothing broken in Liberty City that can’t be fixed with whole families,” said Fair, who is a long-time registered independent voter.
Lyons argues that “there is no real debate in our community and is critical of the belief that we are “just supposed to vote Democrat.”
“This is a democracy — a system that allows you to speak your mind,” he said. “We need to be able to share our opinion.”
By José Pérez
Miami Times writer