Rafael Cruz, a right-wing evangelical Texas minister and the father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, has some peculiar, offensive and absurdly inaccurate things to say on race and American political history. Speaking at a Western Williamson County Republican Club meeting near Austin on Aug. 21, Rafael Cruz argued that black people “need to be educated” about Democrats and that “the average black does not” understand that the minimum wage is bad, BuzzFeed reported on Tuesday.
The suggestion that African Americans are ignorant, especially if they disagree with right-wing dogma, is bad enough. But it gets worse. According to BuzzFeed, Cruz illustrated his points by recounting a conversation he supposedly had with a black pastor in California:
“I said, as a matter of fact, ‘Did you know that Civil Rights legislation was passed by Republicans? It was passed by a Republican Senate under the threat of a filibuster by the Democrats,’” Cruz said. “‘Oh, I didn’t know that.’ And then I said, ‘Did you know that every member of the Ku Klux Klan were Democrats from the South?’ ‘Oh I didn’t know that.’ You know, they need to be educated.”
Almost none of what he said there is true. The Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960 and 1964 — the latter being the most sweeping, by far — were each passed by a Democratic House and Senate, although certainly with Republican support. For decades, white Southern Democratic Senators had blocked civil rights legislation, but often with the passive (and sometimes not so passive) support of conservative Republicans. And in the years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, legions of white southern Democrats moved over to the Republican Party.
Was “every member” of the KKK a Democrat from the South? Of course not. The Klan was certainly strong in the South, and it continues to find support among the region’s dwindling number of overt bigots. But the Klan spread into northern states as well. Historian David Chalmers described the spread of the Klan in the 1920s in an essay for the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Between four million and seven million men and women belonged to the Klan in this era. It was active in every state. It found support in many northern and western cities and was particularly politically powerful in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Colorado, and Oregon, as well as the South. The Klan helped elect state and local officials and at least 20 governors and U.S. senators — from Maine to California. In Oregon, a Klan-dominated legislature passed an anti-Catholic school law, later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925), that required public school attendance. The Klan was deeply involved in politics, but it did not form its own political party. It was generally Democratic in the South and Republican in the North. It had no national platform. The Klan was a major issue at the 1924 Democratic Convention and the national election; in the 1928 presidential election, when New York Catholic Al Smith was the Democratic candidate, it helped the Republicans win.
And while it’s true that a lot of southern white Democrats belonged to or were sympathetic to the KKK up to the 1950s and ’60s, many of them left the Democratic Party as the party’s national leaders successfully pushed civil rights efforts. There’s a reason, after all, that Republican presidential nominees Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968 employed successful strategies to gain the support of many of those white southerners who had once voted overwhelmingly Democratic.
That Cruz would vomit such nonsense is hardly surprising. He has a history of saying crazy things. In just the last year, for example, he has declared that “communism and evolution go hand in hand,” has argued that separation of church and state is just a “one-way wall,” and has lied to fellow pastors by claiming that a new San Antonio ordinance would allow the city to fine clergy who preach against homosexuality.
Now on the issue of civil rights, Cruz is pushing the same kind of cherry-picking, revisionist history that phony historian David Barton has employed over and over in his own attempt to hide the fact that the Party of Lincoln became the party of angry whites in much of the South.
Of course, Cruz and Barton aren’t the only ones who promote ignorance and distortions when it comes to our country’s civil rights history. We’ve seen far-right members of the Texas State Board of Education do it as well. That’s one big reason why the state board’s adoption of new history textbooks for Texas public schools is so important this year. It’s time to put a stop to the right’s rewriting of American history.