As freshly unearthed quote from Ronald Reagan continues to make headlines, a prominent Reagan biographer has defended the former president’s legacy from that one isolated statement.
Paul Kengor, a professor of political science at Grove City College and author of several books on Reagan, wrote for The American Spectator on Thursday that Reagan’s appalling statement was “completely out of character for him amid a very public life.”
Reagan, then the governor of California, was speaking on the phone with then-President Richard Nixon about the U.N.’s vote to recognize the People’s Republic of China.
“To see those, those monkeys from those African countries — damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan said.
In response, Kengor noted that to judge Reagan for a solitary remark is pure folly.
And he suggested that Nafatali should “be careful” before jumping to conclusions about Reagan’s alleged “racism.”
That Reagan was no racist “can be demonstrated at length in actions and statements literally from the time of his childhood,” Kengor wrote, adding, “I have a box, stuffed with folders, labeled ‘Reagan and race’ … loaded with examples that show Reagan to have been completely against racial prejudice.”
Kengor provided a series of anecdotes detailing Reagan’s support for black people, starting with a story of a college-aged Reagan offering to host two black teammates at his parents’ home when they were denied a room in a local hotel.
That story, Kengor wrote, “underscores [Reagan’s] respect for the inherent humanity of all people. … For Reagan, these were matters of basic human dignity.”
Reagan’s anti-racist moments were not limited to his youth. Even in one of his most famous moments, his Evil Empire speech, Reagan “paused to call out his own country, the United States of America, for its past sins of racism,” Kengor wrote.
Though the majority of the speech was directed toward America’s chief enemy, the Soviet Union, Reagan declared the U.S. had its own “legacy of evil with which it must deal. … There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.”
Kengor closed the book on Reagan by saying that “it is really unfair to take one statement from a man’s past — one that goes against every statement he ever made about black people — and try to argue that it makes him a racist, especially when the man is no longer alive to explain the remark.”
But Reagan wasn’t Kengor’s only focus.
The biographer also warned Tim Naftali, the author of The Atlantic piece, to “be careful” when it comes to accusations of racism.
Progressive icons do not, after all, have a spotless track record.
Former President Woodrow Wilson’s history of racist statements is well-documented. Wilson even resegregated the federal government after taking office.
And former President Lyndon Johnson’s repeated use of racist slurs was flagrant and rampant.
“To liberals, I say this: Don’t be hacks,” Kengor concluded.
“Don’t smear a decent man and his long life of decency, including on race, because he’s a Republican and not one of your Democrat buddies. Have the decency to treat a decent man with decency.”
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