Black voters, especially when voting in a bloc, have often played an integral part in winning presidential campaigns.
African Americans voted in presidential elections in large numbers starting in 1928 with most of their votes going to Republican candidate Herbert Hoover.
Many Blacks voted Republican because of its perception as the Party of Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator. In 1932, a number of Blacks in the northern states bolted from the GOP to Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt due to the effects of the Great Depression.
Jennifer Scanlon, a professor of humanities at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, wrote in an article, “One Reason Why Blacks Rallied to Harry Truman in 1948,” is that Blacks as a constituency had not yet exercised national influence over a presidential election, but 1948, some thought, could be the year.
Scanlon noted that while Blacks favored Roosevelt, they voted Republican in congressional, state and local races because of many white Democrats’ pro-segregation stances. Scanlon credits the efforts of Black political activist Anna Arnold Hedgeman of New York City for increasing Truman’s support among Blacks in the 1948 election.
Hedgeman facilitated a rally in Harlem, then informally known as the “capital of Black America” where Truman spoke, the first time a president visited the New York City neighborhood. When the election results came in, New York strongly went to Republican Thomas Dewey, (he was the governor of the state) but Truman defeated him in Harlem, 90,000 votes to 25,000. Scanlon said Truman won 1948 by a “narrow margin nationally, thanks in part to the Black electorate in northern states like New York.”
In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower sought reelection to a second term. Eisenhower campaigned in Black neighborhoods in northern cities talking about his role in abolishing segregation in the military, integrating Washington, D.C. and hiring more African Americans in the Foreign Service than ever before, according to an article by Lincoln M. Fitch, a scholar at Gettysburg College. Eisenhower went on to win re-election over Democrat Adlai Stevenson. U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.), who represented Harlem in the Congress, supported Eisenhower. Fitch pointed out that Eisenhower won 36% of the Black vote that election, a feat no Republican hasn’t matched since.
Then there was the 1960 election, when then Democratic candidate Senator John F. Kennedy called Coretta Scott King, wife of civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., while her husband languished in an Atlanta jail. A PBS.org article revealed Kennedy’s brother Robert convinced an Atlanta judge to grant King bail. The piece also reported King’s father, known as Daddy King, switched his alliance from Republican candidate Vice President Richard Nixon to Kennedy. That call sparked many northern Blacks to switch their votes to the senator. Kennedy barely won the election with the Black vote playing a decisive role in states such as Illinois, Michigan and New York.
With the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Blacks voter participation increased substantially in the late 1960s and beyond. However, a November 3, 1976, article in the Harvard Crimson written by Seth Kaplan and James Kaplan said the Black vote put former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, over incumbent Republican president Gerald Ford in that year’s presidential election.
They said Carter carried 10 out of the 11 states of the Old Confederacy due to Southern whites and Blacks voting for him. Carter also won states such as Pennsylvania and New York on the strength of the Black vote, the Kaplans reported.
The Black vote made all the difference in 1992 when Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a Democrat, defeated Republican President George W. Bush and independent Ross Perot. Election statistics reveal Clinton won the 1992 race with 83% of the Black vote and re-election four years later with 84% of African Americans’ support. Clinton lost the white vote in 1992 and 1996 by getting only 39% and 43% respectively.
Barack Obama, the first Black elected president, lost the white vote in both his initial election in 2008 and re-election effort, getting 43% in the former and 39% in latter. However, political analysts noted Obama’s Black vote at 95% in 2008 and 93% in 2012 complemented by a high voter turnout among African Americans and young people of all races.
In 2020, former vice president Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump with 87% of the Black vote, according to Cornell University’s Roper Center.