If you are like me and find yourself wondering over and over: how did the American black community find itself in the aimless position that it has found itself in today? Read this essay! Warning: this one is not for the queamish!

Written By: Emanuel McLittle
Published In: New Coalition News & Views
Publication Date: April 1, 2003
Publisher: The New Coalition at The Heartland Institute


Most people go through life dreaming of “making their mark”–that is, offering this world something that will last. Of course, Thoreau’s dictum that “most men live lives of quiet desperation” is as true now as it ever was. Over the past 250 years, thousands of scholars and academicians have striven to “make their marks.” Few, of course, have succeeded.

Thomas Jefferson spawned “Jeffersonian Democracy,” Karl Marx delivered “Marxism,” Andrew Jackson created “Jacksonian Democracy,” and Charles Darwin gave us “Darwinism.” More recently, John Maynard Keynes offered “Keynesian economics,” Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek reinvented economic liberty with the “Austrian school of economics,” James Buchanan has given us “the public choice school,” and Milton Friedman has fathered “the monetary school.”

Few survive the test of time. Today, Jeffersonian Democracy lies in tatters in the nation of its birth, Marxism is discredited worldwide, the “spoils system” that flourished under Andrew Jackson had to be reformed by the civil service merit system, and Keynesian economics has fallen into disrepute. Dr. Walter Williams is working on a legacy that seems destined to last, as he and his colleague Dr. Thomas Sowell have virtually single-handedly revived black America’s original path.

The socialist movement that dominated this century, here as in the rest of the world, has moved the black agenda far from its primary roots. Even today, much of black America remains more “conservative,” more grounded in traditional values than their white counterparts. Socialism took hold within the black community with its empty promises of “racial equality” along with the increasing disincentives for hard work, thrift, and individual initiative. Its only consistent resistance within the black community has come from the black separatist viewpoint … until Dr. Williams and Dr. Sowell developed their own unique theory combining traditional social values with free market economics, effectively rekindling the original path of America’s black agenda.

Though you’d never know it by the coverage in today’s “mainstream” mass media, the “conservative” view was black America’s original voice! From the fiery oratory of Frederick Douglass, who championed universal self-sovereignty and the mantle of personal responsibility that comes with it, to Booker T. Washington’s exhortations toward embracing the responsibilities of freedom by first taking responsibility for one’s self (“self help”), black America’s voice was inherently and originally conservative.

Even Booker T. Washington’s most noteworthy contemporary rival. William Edward Burghardt DuBois, originally held a great deal of beliefs in common with Washington. Both Washington and DuBois fervently believed in God, family, and hard work as a vehicle for the perfectibility of man.

DuBois separated with Washington primarily because Washington emphasized training blacks in relatively humble agricultural and technical skills. DuBois believed all black progress, like the progress of most races, would come through the efforts of its most meritorious elite. He called this element in black America The Talented Tenth. The Talented Tenth represented DuBois’ idea that one-tenth of our race contained the talent and intelligence needed to pull the remainder of the entire race up to full citizenship.

Like Thomas Carlyle, DuBois came to oppose the social Darwinist view that saw natural selection and the doctrine of laissez faire as the answers to the question of social justice. Washington championed the views and values of Horatio Alger. DuBois saw the need for a more confrontational approach to ingrained racial injustice.

Sadly, DuBois moved further and further from his original ideals as he embraced and was in turn embraced by the vanguard of the American Left. First through his ties to early socialists like William E. Walling, Joel E. Springarn, Mary White Ovington, and Charles E. Russell, who were the original architects of the NAACP. The man who once proclaimed “Your country first, your rights second,” had taken up the internationalist chant of America’s socialists: “The United States of the World!”

In a visit to the Soviet Union in 1926, DuBois said, “If what I’ve seen with my eyes and heard with my ears in Russia is Bolshevism, I am a Bolshevik.” Writing to Gus Hall in 1961 he stated, “Today I have reached a firm conclusion, that Capitalism cannot reform itself. It is doomed to self destruction. No universal selfishness can bring social good to all. Communism … is the only way of human life.”

With Washington’s death (1915) and DuBois’ profound change of heart and course of action, the black political spectrum found itself limited to two fairly similar paths within a very narrow agenda. DuBois forged a strong link between black America and America’s radical Left that remains viable to this day. In fact the NAACP, SNCC, SCLC, and the Urban League are stalwarts of America’s modern Leftist establishment.

The other viewpoint was established by a Jamaican-born rival of DuBois named Marcus Garvey. Garvey preached the “Back to Africa” philosophy between 1915 and 1925, and he castigated the newly formed NAACP for its association with and its reliance upon white philanthropy and white political power. In addition, he reviled DuBois as “a mulatto, ashamed of his black ancestry, surrounded by pale skinned associates and close friends, harping on his European ancestry while cultivating an aristocratic manner alien to blacks.”

The schism between these two camps remained the predominant positions within the black community for most of this century. Unfortunately this resulted in a sort of devil’s bargain, a choice between black separatism and black socialism. It is important to note here that the 19th century saw the demise of the free market theory (laissez faire capitalism) and with it the Booker T. Washington “mythology.” The world had come to accept that socialism was “the economy of the future” and fascism “the politics of the future”–so black America was certainly not out of step with the tenor of the times!

To the Garveyites, race was destiny–or in the words of DuBois to Garvey and his followers, “black skin in itself was a sort of patent to nobility.” This was also the underlying ideal of German Nazism (Aryan supremacy), that all history amounted to a racial struggle for dominance and control.

Early in his own career, DuBois asserted his own belief in race-based theory. In his book, The Conservation of Races (1897), DuBois wrote, “One who ignores or seeks to ignore the race idea in history, ignores and overrides the central thought of all history.”

By 1925 Garvey was imprisoned for mail fraud (he was subsequently deported in 1927), effectively ending black separatist influence for the next quarter century. DuBois went on to be influenced by some of the leading American socialists of the day (Walling, Ovington, and Russell), giving the Left momentum within the black community and setting the stage for all future black political action.

The socialist ideal had more than a quarter century of unrivaled access to blacks through the mass media. It wasn’t until the l950s, when the black Muslim movement would rekindle Garvey’s black nationalism along with an even more outspoken “black supremacy,” that the Left wing (socialist) black establishment was challenged in any meaningful way.

The 1960s saw a recurrence of the DuBois vs. Garvey debates, as “black separatists” vied with “integrationists” or less affectionately “assimilationists” for predominance within the black community. Today the descendants of DuBois’ Leftist legacy (Jesse Jackson; the NAACP’s newest president, Benjamin Chavez; and a host of liberal politicians) still hold sway over the original civil rights organizations and garner the lion’s share of the media attention.

Garvey’s first descendants were Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam along with Malcolm X, followed by the likes of H. Rapp Brown, Stokeley Carmichael, and the Black Panther Party with Huey Newton and company. His more recent descendants garner less attention but no less fervor. Some of these are Louis Farrakhan, professor Leonard Jeffries, the “black Israelites” (NYC) and black supremacist entertainers like Sister Souljah, Public Enemy, and Ice Cube.

Given the tremendous dominance of socialism throughout most of this century, the predominance of black “liberalism” isn’t very surprising.

The dismal record of failure that socialism has produced indicates that the revival of black nationalism shouldn’t have proven too shocking either. What has taken a lot of people by surprise is the incredible rebirth of the free market view or the philosophy of individual freedom within the black community after more than half a century without a champion. The two dominant leaders of this resurgence are without a doubt Professor Walter E. Williams and Professor Thomas Sowell.

It is largely through the voluminous works and powerfully articulate voices of Doctors Williams and Sowell that black America’s original path was reopened after more than 60 years without a voice! This political readjustment within America’s black community is as vital and as historic as is Europe’s rejection of socialism, the break up of the Soviet Union, and the trend towards market-based economies in both South America and Africa.

The strength of black conservatism is astonishing. Some 34 percent of all black Americans consider themselves conservative today. Consider the fact that black socialism has had an unbroken line of influence going back to the turn of the century, with a fairly steady chronology, save for a 25 year hiatus between the deportation of Marcus Garvey (1927) and the birth of the Black Muslim movement in the late 1940s. During this time black conservatism was without a viable spokesman (due to the death of Booker T. Washington in 1915) until the emergence of a new era of black conservatism led by Williams and Sowell in the mid 1970s.

Without a doubt, black conservatism is an idea whose time has come. The black community in America has always been grounded in what the rest of the nation refers to as “traditional values.” Black America’s attraction to the siren’s song of socialism is firmly grounded on the premise of a human utopia (the Biblical “land of milk and honey”) and the promise of reparations (black salvation and white redemption) for past degradations.

Unfortunately the reality of all socialist “utopias” has been an “equality of depravity” for all under the yoke of an elite that live like potentates off the suffering of others. Just as “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” there is no heaven on Earth. As for reparations? How can one group be rewarded for the sufferings of their ancestors at the expense of another group that has committed none of the crimes for which they are expected to atone, without breeding even more hatred, mistrust, and violence? As logical as these arguments are, no one made them for more than 60 years after the death of Booker T. Washington!

Dr. Walter E. Williams and Dr. Thomas Sowell were virtually alone in making the case for a return to traditional values black America had long held dear. Throughout the 1980s and into the ‘90s their work has been bearing fruit, as more and more black Americans come to see the failures of modern “liberalism” and the necessity for insistence upon personal responsibility and the reward for individual initiative. This is the greatest of all legacies one could leave!



  1. rygnn2@voteswagon.com Says:

    Black conservatism got replaced by greedy civil rights leaders. The days of honorable people like Martin Luther King are gone. Now the new breed of cilvil rights leaders only show up when its monetarily profitable. Sadly, the days of great civil rights leaders appears lost forever, or at least it appers that way.
    Raymond B

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