"GOP is the new black" claim East Austin billboards



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Posted on October 27, 2011 at 6:10 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 27 at 6:22 PM

AUSTIN -- "G.O.P. is the new black" reads one. "Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican" reads another. In East Austin, four new billboards aim to lure African-American voters to the Republican side.

The signs themselves are drawing mixed reviews.

"I think it's alright," said Austin resident Perry McCullough. Amy Hayes questioned the billboard featuring Dr. King.

"I think a Republican back in 1968 was a little different than being a Republican now," said Hayes. "It's just a different party now."

Kelly Reat said the billboards raised an interesting debate. "I still think that a lot of people really don't know everything the Republican Party is about or the Democratic Party either," she said.

The signs link to the website RagingElephants.org, run by Houston preacher and conservative activist Apostle Claver T. Kamau-Imani. His website features articles and videos calling on African-Americans to embrace the G.O.P.

Kamau-Imani has raised similar signs in minority communities within Houston, South Carolina and Ohio, and says the idea is to plant a flag in communities of color. Kamau-Imani hopes to expand his campaign to other cities in Texas with the help of small donations through RagingElephants.org.

So does the Republican message resonate with traditionally Democratic voters? Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder calls the sign featuring Dr. King disrespectful. "Martin Luther King was about civil rights and social justice," said Linder. "That's not the current Republican party."

Linder says it will take more than billboards to change African-Americans' opinions about the G.O.P. "Unemployment, health care, police brutality -- those are our issues," said Linder. "Address those issues, regardless of party, and we'll vote for you."

The rise of figures like presidential contender Herman Cain have encouraged black conservatives. Longtime Texas Railroad Commissioner and Republican Congressional candidate Michael Williams believes the Democratic Party has done little to help the African-American community.

"You have a president who is relying wholly on government to advance the cause of communities, and now we're seeing communities are in worse shape today than they have been previously," said Williams.

Williams says many in the African-American community have conservative views on social issues. "There's no doubt that there is a consistent view among many African-Americans and the Republican party as it relates to the issues of life, as it relates to issue of family, as it relates to the issues of marriage."

Brian McNeece works in the shadow of one of the signs on Martin Luther King Boulevard. "With me, it's all about what are you going to do for the community," said McNeese.

Whether the G.O.P. is indeed the "new black" will be up to the community to decide.

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