This past Sunday, October 14 was a special day for me which I commemorate annually. It was the 128th birthday of the man I revere as the greatest American of the 20th Century, Dwight David Eisenhower.
Ike was the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces that vanquished Nazi Germany in a war that saved Western Civilization. And in recent years, he has at long last received the overdue recognition as one of our nation’s five greatest presidents, along with Lincoln, Washington, and the two Roosevelts.
The accomplishments of Eisenhower as our 35th president are both numerous and historic: Two terms of unsurpassed peacetime prosperity, the ending of the Korean War in 1953, the avoidance of American involvement in the war in Vietnam in 1954, the creation of the Interstate Highways System, which made possible the growth and flourishing of American suburbia. Yet perhaps the most relevant accomplishment of Eisenhower’s administration in this time of GOP Trumpist bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia was his achievement in the arena of civil rights.
In his second term, Eisenhower became the first President in the twentieth century to enact and implement legislation advancing civil rights for African-Americans. In 1957, he made history by his enforcement of court-ordered desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, overcoming the opposition of then-Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. This was followed by his formulating and signing into law the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, the first civil rights legislation enacted since Reconstruction.
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The core of Eisenhower civil rights legislation was the protection of the voting rights of minorities who had been disenfranchised for generations, particularly African-Americans and Native Americans. It was the long delayed guarantee of the right to vote that was central to the progress African-Americans made in the South throughout the past half century in both accessing state and local government and in electing more individuals of color to all levels of government, federal, state, and local.
This November, however, this basic right of Africans-Americans to vote in the Georgia gubernatorial election is under assault.
The Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams has a real opportunity to become the first elected African-American governor of Georgia. She is running even in the polls with her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who has been using the powers of his state office to exclude African-Americans from voting. The outcome of this election may well be determined by how many African-American votes Kemp is able to suppress.
The Kemp racist voter suppression effort, which has not been condemned by any prominent national Republican, is occurring at the same as the effort by Republican administration officials in North Dakota to suppress the Native American vote. This is a national disgrace for the party that once proudly advertised itself as the Party of Lincoln.
I announced this past week that I am leaving the Republican Party to join the ranks of the independents. There are numerous reasons for my change. More than anything else, however, I am a proud Eisenhower Republican. And an Eisenhower Republican cannot be comfortable in the party of Donald Trump and Brian Kemp.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.