Recently, I had lunch with a very powerful Republican elected official who is a good friend of mine. We have extremely candid conversations, especially about race (he is White). Out of nowhere he asked me what was the reason Blacks have a historical affinity for Cadillac automobiles (named after the French explorer who founded Detroit in 1701).
I responded by saying the same reason Blacks had a historical affinity for the Republican Party. He looked very confused and said: “What does that have to do with my question?”
I then said to him: “Let me teach you a little history.”
The Republican Party was founded with the express purpose of ending the slavery of Blacks. Blacks remained loyal to the Republican Party until the party made the decision to adopt the “Southern strategy.”
The Southern strategy was implemented by Nixon aide Kevin Phillips in the 1960s. What it did was drive a wedge between the Black community and the Republican Party. The party increasingly became hostile to civil rights in order to get white, Southern Democrats to join the Republican Party. It has worked magnificently ever since, with Blacks voting Republican only 10% on average during a presidential election.
Cadillac had a similar strategy by not selling their cars to Blacks.
Most people are familiar with the name Cadillac (made by General Motors). But, most are unfamiliar with the story of how Cadillac almost went out of business during the depression (1928-1934) because of their prejudice towards Blacks.
Likewise, the modern day Republican Party is in great danger of going down the same road as the Cadillac, but with a much different result—they will go out of business.
Republicans can no longer afford to be the all White Southern male party. They can no longer afford to totally ignore and disregard the Black community. They can no longer afford to have all Whites at the decision making table. Some will say, yes they can.
So, let’s get back to Cadillac.
Nicolas Dreystadt singlehandedly saved Cadillac from its own ignorance. He was a German immigrant who came to the U.S. with his parents when he was a small boy. He worked as a mechanic apprentice for Mercedes-Benz before becoming the national head of Cadillac’s services department. He was responsible for the department that serviced Cadillac cars throughout the U.S. and was considered middle-management.
As he travelled across the country to monitor Cadillac’s service departments, Dreystadt noticed something strange. He noticed great numbers of Blacks bringing their cars in to be serviced. “But how could this be,” he thought, knowing that Cadillac had a strict “no sale to Blacks” policy. Then it dawned on him that these Blacks had paid Whites to buy the cars for them – they actually paid a fee for the transaction.
“But, the wealthy Negro,” business critic Peter F. Drucker recalled, “wanted a Cadillac so badly that he paid a substantial premium to a White man to front for him in buying one. Dreystadt had investigated this unexpected phenomenon and found that a Cadillac was the only success symbol the affluent Black could buy; he had no access to good housing, to luxury resorts, or to any other of the outward signs of worldly success (Cadillacs cost more than $ 5,000 back then–over $ 60,000 in today’s money).”
The last straw for Dreystadt was when he found out that Cadillac would not allow boxing champion Joe Lewis to buy a car, but that he paid a White person to buy it for him. Lewis war revered as an icon by both Whites and Blacks.
So, in 1932, Dreystadt did the unthinkable. General Motor’s Chairman, Alfred P. Sloan had called a board meeting to discuss closing down the Cadillac line of cars because of low sales due to the Depression. Dreystadt just happened to be in Detroit at the same time. Unannounced, he asked the board for 10 minutes to discuss his plan for saving Cadillac.
Dreystadt pointed out that Blacks paid a premium to White buyers to front for them. “Why should a bunch of White front men get several hundred dollars each when that profit could flow to General Motors? Demand like this should be exploited.”
Dreystadt urged the executive committee to go after this market. The board bought his reasoning and gave him 18 months to develop the “Negro” market. By the end of 1934, Cadillac sales increased by 70%, and the division actually broke even. Dreystadt was eventually made head of the Cadillac Division.
So, to my Republican Party, when will you realize that marketing to Black voters “is good business?” Just like Blacks saved Cadillac, Blacks can also save the Republican Party.
But, unlike the executives of Cadillac, when the Republican “Nicholas Dreystadt” knocked on the door and wanted to discuss how to market your party to the Black community, you refused to listen. That person was the late former Congressman Jack Kemp. He, like Dreystadt, understood the value of the Black vote and preached to anyone who would listen.
Cadillac was wrong for refusing to sell their product to the Black community, but at least they had sense enough to set aside their prejudice when the choice was between Blacks and nonexistence.
You have no Blacks on staff at the Republican National Committee (or any of its other committees). There are no Blacks on staff of any of the presidential campaigns. Republicans like myself and former Congressman J.C. Watts have repeatedly tried to be the modern day Dreystadt. But, maybe after a few more electoral losses you will awaken to the most loyal customer you have ever had.
RAYNARD JACKSON is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com), Freedom’s Journal Magazine (www.freedomsjournal.net), and U.S. Africa Magazine (www.usafricaonline.com)