Republican lawmaker defends Jim Crow comments after criticism from Black Democrats

By Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Black U.S. Republican lawmaker said his comments expressing nostalgia for the Jim Crow era were taken out of context after Democrats criticised his words as outrageous and ignorant.

Representative Byron Donalds, a second-term congressman and former candidate for House speaker, expressed nostalgia for the Jim Crow era – named after a series of laws that defined the height of racial segregation in the United States – in comments at a fundraising event aimed at Black Republicans in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“During Jim Crow, the Black family was together,” Donalds said in a video of the event he posted to social media. “During Jim Crow, more Black people were – not just conservative, because Black people always have always been conservative-minded – but more Black people voted conservatively.”

Jim Crow laws, which restricted civil liberties for Black Americans, were a dark chapter of U.S. history that also inspired much of the legal trappings that supported the Holocaust in 1940s Germany.

Donalds, who represents a conservative district in southwest Florida, told CNN late on Wednesday his remarks were taken out of context.

“All I was doing was referring to the time periods,” he said.

He blamed instead “a political environment where now anything I might say or any major surrogate might say is going to be twisted into the lens of race… That was never the point.”

Democrats have criticised the comments, with top House Democrat Hakeem Jeffries taking to the chamber’s floor in a speech decrying them.

“We were not better off when a young boy named Emmett Till could be brutally murdered without consequence because of Jim Crow,” Jeffries said on Wednesday. “How dare you make such an ignorant observation? You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Jeffries’ campaign sent out a fundraising blast late on Wednesday night calling the comments “one of the year’s most outrageous, outlandish, and out-of-pocket statements”.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Washington)

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