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U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) speaks with reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol for the weekend on May 17, 2024, in Washington, D.C. | Source: Kevin Dietsch / Getty

A longtime civil rights activist with a history of working with conservatives has defended controversial comments from a Black Republican congressman who recently lamented that the Jim Crow era was better for Black families in the U.S.

Bob Woodson, whose notable civil rights resume includes stints at the NAACP and the National Urban League before founding the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, spoke out days after Florida Rep. Byron Donalds’ expressed nostalgia for a time in history when racial discrimination was legal sparked a widespread backlash.


President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence pose for photos with community development leader Robert Woodson before a meeting at Trump National Golf Club on November 19, 2016, in Bedminster, New Jersey. | Source: DON EMMERT / Getty

In case you missed it, Donalds spoke his mind last Tuesday night at an event in Philadelphia meant to galvanize Black male voters around the Republican Party.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Donalds used language loaded with racial and gender tropes by suggesting Black people can’t make electoral decisions on their own without being told how and for whom to cast ballots by their families. It was in that context that Donalds had more to say about Black families.

Speaking about the prospects of the “reinvigoration of Black family,” Donalds later said: “You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”

The words from Donalds – who is not married to a Black woman – suggested that Black families living under racial segregation were better off than current Black families.

While Donalds’ comments were immediately ripped by the likes of the Congressional Black Caucus – which responded in kind with a scathing rebuttal thoroughly debunking his claims – Woodson took a decidedly different tact.

In a video interview, Woodson defended Donalds and Texas Rep. Wesley Hunt – also a Black Republican who appeared alongside Donalds at the “Congress, Cognac and Cigars” event – from critics.

Woodson – who was among candidates to be HUD Secretary for Donald Trump’s administration – said Donalds and Hunt “were attacked by Black democrats for making the claims that Black families were better off during Jim Crow and segregation.”

Woodson suggested the comments were taken out of context.

“They did not say that Jim Crow and segregation – the conditions – were better for Blacks,” Woodson continued. “He said our response to it was better than it is today.”

Woodson tried to draw a contrast between decades-old marriage statistics along racial lines with the apparent modern-day murder rates to back up his claims.

“Between 1930 and 1940, Black families had the highest marriage rate of any group in society,” Woodson said before adding: “More Blacks are killed in one year in America than were killed and lynched in 40 years of the Klan.”

Therefore, Woodson concluded of Donalds and Hunt: “These men were right in their claims.”

Watch Woodson’s comments below.

Woodson’s comments came after the Congressional Black Caucus had already shot down Donalds’ claims with thorough fact-checking.

“Black people were not better off during the Jim Crow Era — a fact that Rep. Byron Donalds knows all too well,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman and Nevada rep. Steven Horsford said in a statement made on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Horsford suggested Donalds — who was notably called a GOP “prop” by progressive Missouri Rep. Cori Bush — was simply a pawn on the larger Republican chessboard being strategically deployed to tell white supremacist lies and revise Black and American history ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

“This is a pattern of embracing racist ideologies that we see time and again within the MAGA Republican Party,” Horsford continued. “Rep. Donalds is playing his role as the mouthpiece who will say the quiet parts out loud that many will not say themselves. His comments were shameful and beneath the dignity of a member of the House of Representatives.”

Horsford added of Donalds: “He should immediately offer an apology to Black Americans for misrepresenting one of the darkest chapters in our history for his own political gain.”

House Minority Leader and fellow Congressional Black Caucus member, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, offered a similar sentiment on Wednesday while addressing his colleagues on the House floor – and he brought receipts with him.

Referring to Donalds as “a so-called leader,” Jeffries ripped “the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow.”

Jeffries, known in part for occasionally employing poetic devices in his speeches, articulated an alliterative ascertainment by calling Donalds’ comments “an outlandish, outrageous and out of pocket observation.”

Jeffries ran down a laundry list of examples of how Black people and families were in far worse positions “because of Jim Crow.”

“We were not better off when a young boy named Emmett Till could be brutally murdered without consequence because of Jim Crow,” Jeffries accurately noted. “We were not better off when Black women could be sexually assaulted without consequence because of Jim Crow. We were not better off when people could be systematically lynched without consequence because of Jim Crow. We were not better off when children could be denied a high-quality education without consequence because of Jim Crow. We were not better off when people could be denied the right to vote without consequences because of Jim Crow.”

Having more than proven his point, Jeffries added about Donalds: “How dare you make such an ignorant observation.”

Watch Jeffries’ speech below.

Woodson, who edited Red, White, and Black: Rescuing American History From Revisionists and Race Hustlers, marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington last summer in part by penning an essay in which he expressed similar sentiments to Donalds’ “Jim Crow” comments.

“Today we are witnessing a destruction of the Black community that is even more devastating than counterproductive dictates of the ‘poverty pentagon’ that injured with its helping hand: the ongoing rise of a victimhood mentality promoted by race-grievance merchants who are demanding reparations,” Woodson wrote. “They declare that any racial inequalities or failures of Black Americans to achieve are the inevitable impact of a legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. They proclaim that ‘systemic racism’ permeates every aspect of the lives of Blacks, and assume that the destiny of Blacks is determined by what white people do or fail to do.”

Months later, Woodson wrote an op-ed for Newsweek addressing the Black Lives Matter movement amid campus protests over the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The op-ed’s headline spoke for itself: Black Lives Matter Does Not Speak for Black America.


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