ANY POLITICAL PARTY that has to go all the way back to Abraham Lincoln to identify a figure attractive to African-American voters does not have diversity high on its agenda. And yet Republican leaders are not entirely to blame for their party's sorry performance when it comes to attracting blacks to the GOP. Those African-Americans who are members of the party -- the so-called Lincoln Republicans -- must shoulder some of the responsibility.
For decades, black Republicans have lamented their status within the party, largely to no avail. The same sentiment expressed nationally can be heard among blacks in the GOP who live in Howard County. Here, where the GOP's African-American ranks are shifting from old-line members to young professionals, black Republicans decry their lack of representation in the party hierarchy, as they have in the past. At times, their complaints border on political fantasy, suggesting that party leaders should cede position and influence to them.
Parties don't simply yield power because it's the right thing to do. Black Howard County Republicans simply don't exist in sufficient numbers to demand what they want from the party.
Black Republicans could take a lesson from GOP colleagues on the far right, who have gained prominence in recent years by building strong grassroots networks and insisting on a say in party affairs. A similar movement by black Republicans, allied perhaps with moderate GOP members, could gain them the influence they crave. Ironically, conservative Republicans may be headed toward just such a showdown with the moderates in their ranks. A bid for the Republican presidential nomination by retired Army Gen. Colin L. Powell would cinch the confrontation, undoubtedly wooing many blacks to the party for the first time.
Meanwhile, the county's black Republicans would do better to join ranks with black Republicans in nearby Prince George's, where their numbers command greater respect. That strategy, while potentially effective in statewide elections, may not dramatically alter the situation in Howard. But it would be a step forward for black Republicans in building the clout necessary to demand that their party take notice.