At a Juneteenth event in Newport News, E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said slavery did not destroy black families, but government welfare programs launched in the 1960s caused them to deteriorate.
Speaking before a small crowd Wednesday at King-Lincoln Park, not too far from where the first African slaves entered the Colonies, Jackson referred to his great-grandparents, who were slaves and sharecroppers in Orange County.
“I am a direct descendent of slaves. My grandfather was born there to a father and a mother who had been slaves. And by the way, their family was more intact than the black family is today,” Jackson said.
“I’m telling you that slavery did not destroy the black family, even though it certainly was an attack on the black family. It made it difficult,” he said.
Juneteenth marks the day in June 1865 when enslaved blacks in Texas learned that the Civil War was over and that the Emancipation Proclamation was in effect.
Democrats began circulating a video of Jackson’s speech late Wednesday.
“The Cuccinelli-Jackson-Obenshain ticket cannot go a week without dividing and offending Virginians with their extreme rhetoric,” said Charniele Herring, chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.
“This Republican ticket’s preoccupation with comparing things to slavery is insulting, as is E.W. Jackson’s dangerous suggestion that legislation in the 1960s was somehow worse for African-American families than slavery,” Herring said.
Jackson claims that new welfare programs created in the 1960s caused the deterioration of black families.
“The program that began to tell women, ‘You don’t need a man in the home, the government will take care of you,’ (and) that began to tell men, ‘You don’t need to be in the home, the government will take care of this woman and will take care of these children,’ ” he said.
Jackson was referring to the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which attempted to address the nation’s problem of hunger by providing another means-tested program for the poor, the disabled and single-parent households, in the form of food stamps.
“In 1960, most black children were raised in two-parent, monogamous families,” Jackson said. “By now, by this time, we only have 20 percent of black children being raised in two-parent, monogamous families with a married man and woman raising those children. It wasn’t slavery that did that, it was government that did that, trying to solve problems that only God can solve, and that only we as human beings can solve,” he said.
Shawn Utsey, chairman of the Department of African-American Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said Jackson may not have been far off the mark with his assessment of the relative impact of slavery on families, but that he was oversimplifying things for political purposes.
“There is some merit in what he was saying about the resilience of blacks during and after slavery,” Utsey said. “However, it is difficult to transpose a contemporary definition of a family unit back in time and apply it to a group of people for whom that definition didn’t exist.”
A mother and father and husband and wife were not a reality under slavery, Utsey said.
“So it’s suspect to take the definition of a family of today, a mother and father who are in a long-term relationship and raise children, and apply that retroactively to make an argument,” he said.