At last official count, there were expected to be a total of 18 black delegates at the Republican National Convention this week. Yes, eighteen, or roughly 0.7 percent of the 2,472 national delegates in Cleveland.
The fact that black Republicans weren’t scrambling to get a front-row seat to watch their party nominate Donald J. Trump for president isn’t a shock. This is a man, after all, who tweets out bogus claims about black-on-black violence and tries to rile up overwhelmingly white crowds with us-versus-them talking points. Still, a little context is in order. This year’s share of black delegates is the lowest one at a Republican national convention in more than a century. Yes, century.
According to a 2012 report from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, which tallied the total number of black delegates at every GOP convention dating back to 1912, the previous lowest share of black delegates at a GOP convention was at the 1964 confab that nominated Barry Goldwater, where 1.0 percent of delegates were black. (That was the only GOP convention the researchers found that had fewer total black delegates than this week’s: 14 of the 1,308 delegates.) Of the previous 26 GOP conventions before this one, the share of black delegates fell below 2 percent on only four other occasions: 1944, 1960, 1964, and 2008. Meanwhile, the high-water mark in terms of diversity, according to the report, was in 2004, when nearly 7 percent of the delegates on hand to watch George W. Bush be nominated for re-election were black.
So to recap: According to the best estimate we have, the share of black delegates at this week’s GOP convention is lower than any time it has been in more than a century (and possibly even longer)—including during a dozen or so conventions that took place back when there were still legally segregated water fountains and lunch counters in our country.