CHARLOTTE — A Jan. 19 event in Charlotte organized by a black conservative group called Blexit, as well as comments from Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, have touched off a war of words on race and politics in North Carolina.
There are about 1.5 million black voters registered in N.C., with approximately 80% of them registered as Democrats according to the Board of Elections. Blexit — Black Exit — is a movement to get black voters to leave the Democratic Party.
Asked for their response to the Charlotte event put on by Blexit NC, Robert Howard, spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party, released a statement saying, “Blexit is a fringe organization started by a far-right provocateur. It’s embarrassing any news outlet would lend credibility to this organization when they deserve none.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) responded with a statement of his own, which said, “The new radical Democratic Party has abandoned the black community with its anti-school choice policies and far-left social agenda. It’s not surprising, then, that the Democratic Party would resort to personal attacks against people of color who have begun a movement to leave the party that’s already left them.”
Pierre Wilson, a spokesman for Blexit’s national organization, also responded in a press release that Howard’s “attack is exactly why Blexit exists. For too long, our community has been told that we must vote one way in fear of the backlash if we step out of line and enough is enough.”
The day after the Blexit event, Forest attended a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Upper Room Church, a black congregation in Raleigh, and made comments on the history of Planned Parenthood that also received pushback from the left.
Forest said the women’s health provider — often at the center of the abortion debate — was created to “destroy the entire black race. That was the purpose of Planned Parenthood. That’s just the truth. That’s not just some bloc on the side. That was the purpose when that organization was created.”
When the comments were picked up by news outlets and social media, Forest doubled-down, saying, “Yeah, I really said that … but Margaret Sanger said it first,” referring to the founder of Planned Parenthood.
In a video posted to Upper Room Church’s Facebook page, an elder defended Forest’s comments and said their church protests weekly outside of a west Raleigh abortion clinic because they believe abortion is having a disproportionate effect on the black community.
Bishop Patrick Wooden, the leader of Upper Room, who had been in Los Angeles during the controversy, returned to his congregation to give a sermon the following Sunday and also defended Forest.
Holding up a Bible and surrounded by placards featuring the quote from Sanger with the words “exterminate the negro population,” Wooden said, “We thank God for Dr. Martin Luther King. I thank God for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. I have no qualms or issues with his comments whatsoever. And even if King would have been for abortion, the God of this book is not.”
Gerald D. Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, wrote on social media that Forest should not speak for King nor the black community.
“His opposition to organizations like Planned Parenthood show he has not learned much from Dr. King,” Givens wrote. “However, Dr. King probably would agree we have unfinished business in education, economics, health care and voting rights in North Carolina. We’re glad the Lt. Governor agrees.”
While Republicans are giving renewed attention to courting the black vote, they are starting from a very small base. Barack Obama won 95% of the African American vote in 2008 and 93% in 2012. Hillary Clinton also received a large majority with 89% in 2016.
Some Republicans point to three late 2019 polls, by Marist, Emerson and Rasmussen, showing an approval rating for Trump in the black community of 33%, 35% and 34%, respectively. These are relatively mainstream polling outfits, but other polls show Trump with under 10% support, throwing doubt on those numbers. Democrats also point out that a presidential approval rating is not the same as a likely voter poll and won’t necessarily translate to votes.
There is evidence of increasing tensions between some more socially conservative black Democrats in N.C. and white progressives within the party.
In April 2019, when the Republicans in the legislature passed a bill designed to protect infants who survived late-term abortions, two Democratic senators and four Democratic House members broke with their party leadership and voted for the GOP-backed bill. All of those who broke with the party were minority men.
Joel Ford, an African American former state senator representing Charlotte, told NSJ last spring that he had been “a hardcore Democrat” but says after voting his convictions, he was pushed out of the party.
“So, what I’m finding is, I’m a person without a party right now,” Ford said. “I’m still registered as a Democrat, but the reality is a lot of my faith beliefs and economic beliefs line up with the Republican Party.”
Ford is close to the minority legislators who broke with the party over the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and said they did the right thing despite incredible pressure. “I think there is a fear of going against the party leadership, which is very liberal at this time,” he said.