Byron Donalds Denies Implying Black People Were Better Off Under Jim Crow Despite Video Evidence

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U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds, Republican of Florida, speaks outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City on May 14, 2024 | Source: ALEX KENT / Getty

When Florida Republican Byron Donalds implied that Black families faired better during the Jim Crow era, he was demonstrably wrong. He was wrong when he claimed that during the era, “more Black people voted conservatively,” because the factual truth is most Black people during most of that era weren’t allowed to vote at all. He was also, at best, misleading when he said Black marriage was stronger during Jim Crow. (I’ll get more into that later.)

Yes, Donalds was wrong when he invoked Jim Crow during the Trump campaign’s “Congress, Cognac and Cigars” event, which was meant to “garner the Black male vote,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which noted that the event was held in the “whitest and most conservative” part of the city. (Also, they could have called the event “House Negroes, Hennessy and Hookah,” but that probably would have been too on the nose.) But what’s more annoying than Donalds being wrong is the way he has responded to the backlash by pretending he didn’t say what he said, and that what he said wasn’t an intentional nod to the Jim Crow era meant to put a positive spin on Black oppression. (The Florida congressman might as well have been joining the Florida Board of Education in arguing that slaves benefitted from slavery.)

On Saturday, Donalds made an appearance on MSNBC and faced off against Rev. Al Sharpton, who pressed him on his Jim Crow remarks, to which Donalds essentially responded, “What Jim Crow remarks? How can you say I said what everybody clearly heard me say even though I didn’t say it?” 

First, let’s get into how Sharpton, who was actually alive during Jim Crow and part of the civil rights movement to end it, read the hell out of Donads, who was not around at the time and does not have any first-hand experiences with Black marriage.

“The era of Eisenhower and Harry Truman, you name Jim Crow. There’s only one way you could deal with Jim Crow, and that’s by race.

I mean, look, I’m a look. You and I had mutual friends. People say you’re a straight shooter. I mean, we may disagree on politics. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt.

But, look, you were born in Brooklyn. You went down into the South, went to Florida State. You have an interracial marriage, you’re the congressman of a district. There’s not a Black district.

I mean, how can you even live with yourself acting like Jim Crow was a good era, or better era for Blacks? What happened to you?”

Actually, Sharpton could have gone in a lot harder if he wanted to. He could have mentioned that Donalds’ white wife is on the advisory board of Moms for Liberty, a group that the internet has dubbed “Ku Klux Karen,” because it’s made up almost entirely of white women who have such setting hatred for Black and LGBTQ studies that the Southern Poverty Law Center labeled the organization a hate group. At the very least, Donalds’ choice of spouse demonstrates his mentality and puts his rudimentary understanding of Black history in context.

Anyway, Donalds was visibly flustered by Sharpton’s comments, and all he could say in response is that he didn’t say what we all heard him say.

“Okay, that’s real cute. That’s real cute. I did not say that!” Donalds said, to which Sharpton replied, “I’m not being cute! I’m asking you a straight-up question!”

And I’m not going to sit here and have you insinuate that against me, because right now you’re lying about what I said,” Donalds said. “I did say Jim Crow. I did reference it…”

“Four times,” Sharpton interjected, to which Donalds responded by correcting him, noting that he was off by one on how many times the GOP rep mentioned Jim Crow.

“Three times. That’s not to say that it was better. I never said that. Those words never came out of my mouth. When are you going to get that through your skull, and everybody else’s skull?” Donalds asked, to which Sharpton responded, “Maybe because our skull has ears and we heard what you said!”

Now, to be fair, Donalds is right that he never said the exact words, “Black people were better off under Jim Crow,” but he did all but say it.

“During Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said. “During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively. And then H.E.W., Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are.”

First of all, if Donalds did not intend to imply that Black people faired better under Jim Crow, why mention the policies of President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose most well-known political move regarding Black people was the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act? (Note, Johnson was still a racist, but since Donalds is currently one of Donald Trump’s most loyal Black leg-humpers, anti-Black bigotry couldn’t possibly be his issue with the 36th president.)

Truthfully, even if Donalds’ only point was that during the time of Jim Crow, the Black nuclear family was more prevalent, he was still being oversimplistic to the point of being flat-out wrong.

Donalds is partially right that the rate of Black marriages has declined since the Jim Crow era. The percentage of Black children born to unmarried mothers has also dramatically increased. However, those statistics hold true for every racial demographic. While Donalds would like to attribute this to the Democrats, government handouts and “welfare” programs, people who know things understand that out-of-wedlock births correlate with povertyeducation and income more than race. Plus, first-time white moms are more likely to have a “shotgun wedding” when they get pregnant.

Furthermore, Donald’s entire definition of “family” is based on marriage statistics, but researchers who actually cite facts found “no significant differences” between how unmarried Black fathers interact with their children compared to other races. The only difference they noted is that “White fathers spend significantly fewer days per month” with their children than Black fathers. 

So, Donalds was loud, wrong and anti-Black as hell, and now that he’s getting dragged across media and social mediamuch like Black people were dragged from the rear bumpers of white people’s pickup trucks during Jim Crow—he’s trying to hide his hands after throwing wannabe-white supremacist stones.

You said what you said, Byron, and owning up to it would be far less cowardly.


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