Byron Donalds Says 'During Jim Crow, The Black Family Was Together'

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) suggested on Tuesday that Black American families were more “together” during the era of legal segregation known as Jim Crow.

Speaking with Rep. Wesley Hunt (R-Texas) during a Black voter outreach event for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Donalds said 20th-century welfare policies supported by Democrats hurt Black families.

“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,” Donalds said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“And then HEW, Lyndon Johnson — you go down that road, and now we are where we are,” Donalds said, referring to the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare and the “War on Poverty” programs championed by Johnson, a Democrat, as president in the 1960s.

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign highlighted Donalds’ remarks on Wednesday, and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) rebuked Donalds on the House floor, calling his commentary outlandish and outrageous.

“It has come to my attention that a so-called leader has made the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow,” Jeffries said.

“We were not better off when a young boy named Emmett Till could be brutally murdered without consequence because of Jim Crow,” Jeffries said. “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.”

More than 4,000 Black people were lynched between 1877 and 1950, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Laws in Southern states and cities disallowed Black people from sharing public spaces with whites. It’s not clear what Donalds meant by Black people voting more “conservatively” during that era; Jim Crow laws often prevented them from voting at all.

Donalds’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment or context about his remarks. But the congressman responded to Jeffries on social media, noting that he had not actually said Black people were “better off” during Jim Crow — just that Black families were more together.

“What I said was is that you had more Black families under Jim Crow, and it was the Democrat policies under HEW, under the welfare state, that did help to destroy the Black family,” Donalds said in a video.

Conservatives have long claimed that cash welfare programs hurt families, and Black families in particular, by providing assistance to single mothers, supposedly creating an incentive for family separation.

Researchers have said it’s not actually clear that federal programs helping poor people with food, health care and cash assistance caused the decline in marriage during the 20th century, since so much has changed besides government policy.

In a statement, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, called on Donalds to apologize.

“Rep. Donalds is playing his role as the mouthpiece who will say the quiet parts out loud that many will not say themselves,” Horsford said. “His comments were shameful and beneath the dignity of a member of the House of Representatives. He should immediately offer an apology to Black Americans for misrepresenting one of the darkest chapters in our history for his own political gain.”