George H.W. Bush’s legacy on racial issues: It’s complicated

FILE – In this Aug. 31, 2004 file photo. George P. Bush, left, stands hands with his grandfather, former President George H.W. Bush in New York prior to their remarks at a reception hosted by the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute in conjunction with the Republican National Convention. George H.W. Bush’s political career spanned a generation and straddled the America before and after Jim Crow but also was a key figure in the GOP as reaching out to Latino voters. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Former President George H.W. Bush, who has been lauded as a man of decency and civility, has a complicated legacy when it comes to race.

He got elected with the help of the infamous Willie Horton ad, widely decried as racist. On the other side of the ledger, he appointed Colin Powell the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He also picked Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a black conservative whose views are at odds with those of much of black America.

Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley says Bush was “civil rights-minded” and wanted to see himself as a man “devoid of racism.” But Rice says the reality is that Bush sometimes engaged in racial politics.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says he considers Bush to have been “a fundamentally fair man.”

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