10) Richard Nixon (1969-1974): Despite his conservative reputation, Nixon actually had a decent record on civil rights. But he embraced racial fear tactics as a candidate (“the Southern Strategy”) and in private recordings revealed sick racial views. In one tape he said, “there are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white.”
9) Ronald Reagan (1981-1989): Reagan alienated African-Americans as a candidate, launching his 1980 campaign in the same town where civil rights workers were murdered in 1964 (where he declared support for “states’ rights”). As president he largely turned a blind eye towards the outbreak of HIV/AIDs, the crack epidemic and a massive rise in inner-city poverty.
8) George W. Bush (2001-2009): His policies helped hasten the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression, putting millions of African-Americans out of work. He was also openly hostile towards the NAACP. Still, it was this president’s initial indifference to the fallout of Hurricane Katrina that will forever leave a black mark on his presidency.
7) Thomas Jefferson (1801–1809): As a Founding Father, Jefferson railed against the institution of slavery yet he hypocritically remained a slaveowner his entire life (and never freed his slaves). As president he continued to believe in white racial superiority.
6) Andrew Jackson: While Jackson’s cruelty to Native Americans is well documented (“The Trail of Tears”) he also fought abolitionists at every turn. He accused them of “wicked attempts” to incite slave rebellions and suppressed their publications.
5) Millard Fillmore (1850–1853): While Fillmore’s brief presidency was hardly memorable, his authorization of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 had painful and terrifying consequences for 19th century blacks.
4) Franklin Pierce (1853–1857): The undistinguished Pierce installed the future leader of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, as secretary of war. He sided with pro-slavery advocates throughout his presidency and authorized the expansion of slavery into new territories with the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
3) James Buchanan (1857–1861): Consistently ranking among the worst U.S. presidents of all time, Buchanan tried to straddle both sides on the slavery issue and wound up being more sympathetic to the South, setting the stage for the Civil War.
2) Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): Wilson institutionalized segregation in Washington D.C. He infamously hosted a screening of the pro-KKK The Birth of a Nation at the White House and praised its authenticity. He believed “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit,” and presided over one of the deadliest eras for African-Americans.
1) Andrew Johnson: “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men,” Johnson once said. And unfortunately, he kept his word. One of America’s most unpopular presidents, he set about undoing much of the progressive Lincoln initiatives on behalf of freed slaves.
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On President’s Day we traditionally pay homage to our truly great presidents — Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt, for example. These were flawed but undeniably strong leaders who shaped this nation in positive ways which still reverberate to this day. But then there are other presidents, who failed America (and black America more specifically), by either being indifferent, ineffective or hostile when dealing with crises like slavery, poverty and civil rights. In this slideshow, we look at the records of those men and why they are far-from-beloved in the black community.