February 21, 2002 - The Daily Tar Heel: NC State Senator Henry McKoy appointed Director of Africa Region at US Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Headlines: Peace Corps Headlines - 2002: 02 February 2002 Peace Corps Headlines: February 21, 2002 - The Daily Tar Heel: NC State Senator Henry McKoy appointed Director of Africa Region at US Peace Corps

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NC State Senator Henry McKoy appointed Director of Africa Region at US Peace Corps

Read and comment on this story from the February 11, 1999 issue of the Daily Tar Hell on Henry McKoy, member of the State Senate from North Carolina, who has been appointed Director the Africa Region at the US Peace Corps at:

More Blacks Finding Friends in Grand Old Party *

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

More Blacks Finding Friends in Grand Old Party

By Matt Dees Assistant State & National Editor

Henry McKoy could be described as a political Darwinist.

Elected in 1994 as the first black Republican to serve in the state Senate since Reconstruction, McKoy said he evolved from a liberal protester in Greensboro in the tumultuous 1960s to a Republican legislator in the 1990s.

McKoy said his role as a husband and father caused him to reconsider his values and his politics. "I see this simply as an evolution in my life," he said of his political rebirth.

"When I became a father, it caused me to look at the world very differently. My personal evolution led me here, not a disillusionment with the Democratic Party."

McKoy began his political career as the vice president of the student body at N.C. Agricultural & Technical State University in the mid-1960s, leading demonstrations at an institution that was a hotbed of civil rights activism.

He later became head of the N.C. Civil Rights Commission under Gov. Jim Hunt in the late 1970s and stayed on when Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican, took over in the 1980s. After serving in the Martin administration for nearly a decade as a Democrat, McKoy switched parties in 1989. And despite the rarity of his position as a black Republican, the political phenomenon is becoming both increasingly common and contentious. Thad Beyle, political science professor at UNC, said though the number of black Republicans was still relatively small, the conservative trend among blacks was slowly gaining momentum.

"The rule of thumb is that if blacks come out to vote, they vote 90 to 95 percent Democratic," Beyle said.

"But not too long ago that figure would have been 100 percent. There is some growing strength among conservative blacks who have moved up the socioeconomic ladder and have started voting Republican," he said. One example that illustrates the blurring of the line between blacks and Republicans came in Raleigh last month. The Black Caucus and House Republicans rallied behind a black candidate, Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, for the speaker position. He missed upsetting new speaker Rep. Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, by one vote. This apparent bridging of the gap has also opened the door for black officials in the Republican Party.

Against the Grain

Those blacks who identify themselves with the GOP or those who hold conservative views have secured a unique place in American political culture.

U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., one of only two black Republican congressman on Capitol Hill, and others like Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and conservative activist Ward Connerly, have been thrust into the national spotlight due to their unorthodox politics.But with the heightened media coverage came increased scrutiny, particularly from blacks, for black Republicans' seemingly contradictory views.

Beyle said black voters started leaning toward the Democrats during the Great Depression, rallying behind President Franklin D. Roosevelt's welfare programs. This support became steadfast following the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, who both backed civil rights initiatives.

With this long-held support for Democrats among black voters, McKoy and Vernon Robinson, a black conservative alderman from Winston-Salem's South Ward, both said they received attacks that often became personal. "I've had people say that I've turned my back on my community," McKoy said. "But I have a clean conscience. I'm right with God, and I believe that I've got the respect of political leaders on both sides of the aisle."

Though both McKoy and Robinson downplayed the negative aspects of their positions, they said the reproachful comments were constant and ran the gamut of name-smearing tactics.

So with a political move that virtually guarantees personal attacks and scrutiny from fellow blacks and white Democrats, why would any black become a Republican?

Uncle Tom, Turncoat or Trailblazer?

What drives blacks to adopt rightist ideals, and what role do black Republicans play in a party whose politics blacks have traditionally opposed?

Mark Fleming, a spokesman for the N.C. Republican Party, said many black citizens identified with the GOP's adherence to family-oriented policy-making.

"Our family-friendly message has a great appeal to the African-American community," he said. "We also appeal to African Americans in business." McKoy cited these issues family values and economic independence as the factors that led him to his decision.

"The values that the Republican Party held was much like the values I held growing up," he said.

"The notion of the appeal to people for personal responsibility has a very powerful impact for me. There seems to be too much of a willingness to rely on the system to solve our problems."

McKoy said the efforts to improve living conditions for working-class blacks, which began in earnest in the late 1960s with President Johnson's Great Society, ended up impeding entrepreneurship in the black community. "I saw that the efforts to do good with government programs ended up replacing black power," he said.

"I found the conservative approach was to make whole those people in need. Instead of giving a person an extra $5 a month, the GOP thought helping to move them into a track where they could be self-sufficient was the ultimate form of compassion."

Robinson also cited similar qualms with Democratic dogma.

"As I was looking at what was offered by the mainstream Democratic community, I realized they were dismantling the family unit by supporting policies that make up the welfare state," he said.

"The Democratic party has a political dependence on poverty." But Ron Walters, a professor of government and politics at the Afro-American Studies Program at the University of Maryland, said this conservative notion was misguided.

"I think people have misjudged the impact of the government on black people," he said. "Certainly most people in the black community are self-sufficient, but they need the government to get them over the hump." Walters, who recently challenged Connerly's views on affirmative action in a public debate, said black politicians often had ulterior motives when making the leap to the right.

He said the Republican party supported blacks interested in seeking elected office on the GOP ticket, allowing them to rise through the ranks more rapidly than they would as Democrats."People who have chosen that political route have received uncommon access, such as financial support from the GOP," Walters said.

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