History

The Black Conservative Tradition

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In the latest New Republic, historian Steven Hahn has a long and very interesting review of the recent Booker T. Washington biography Up from History. As Hahn discusses, Washington famously championed economic advancement and education over political activism as the key to black equality, an approach Washington perhaps best articulated in his "Atlanta Compromise" speech of 1895.

After reading Hahn's review, liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias was apparently struck by the need for "the concept of a 'black conservative' political tradition" in order to best understand Washington's life and accomplishments. Thankfully, a little Googling revealed that a black conservative tradition does exist, though Yglesias might have searched a little further before typing this:

It's only extremely recently that the idea of an African-American aligning himself, à la Clarence Thomas, with the mainstream conservative movement in America could be remotely possible. But even so, that didn't mean there was no ideological conflict in black politics or that general rightist sentiments somehow didn't exist.

Actually, the great Harlem Renaissance author and journalist George Schuyler—who was known as the "black H.L. Mencken"—published "general rightist sentiments" long before Clarence Thomas came on the scene, including Schuyler's unambiguously titled 1966 autobiography Black and Conservative. And the celebrated novelist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston both endorsed conservative Sen. Robert A. Taft in the 1952 presidential election and repeatedly attacked FDR's New Deal, including this 1951 assault from the pages of the Saturday Evening Post:

Throughout the New Deal era the relief program was the biggest weapon ever placed in the hands of those who sought power and votes. If the average American had been asked flatly to abandon his rights as a citizen and to submit to a personal rule, he would have chewed tobacco and spit white lime. But under relief, dependent upon the Government for their daily bread, men gradually relaxed their watchfulness and submitted to the will of the "Little White Father," more or less. Once they had weakened that far, it was easy to go on an on voting for more relief, and leaving Government affairs in the hands of a few. The change from a republic to a dictatorship was imperceptibly pushed ahead.

So I think it's safe to say that Clarence Thomas has a few more prominent forebears than just Booker T. Washington. And while I wouldn't call him a conservative, Frederick Douglass absolutely counts as one of America's greatest classical liberals.

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  1. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Matt Yglesias is a lightweight.

    1. He is much worse than that.

      1. He’s helium.

  2. “The change from a republic to a dictatorship was imperceptibly pushed ahead.”

    So imperceptibly, that, even now, with Obama as president, many Americans don’t realize that they’re living under a dictatorship. Many, in fact, think that they’re better off than people were back in 1932 (that halcyon year!)

    Actually, I enjoyed the review of the Booker T. bio. But what people should really read is Booker’s own book, “Up From Slavery,” an American classic.

    1. Well had the New Deal not been mostly dismantled by the end of the 40s, we wouldn’t be anywhere near as prosperous as we are now. Had the New Deal never been enacted we would be far more prosperous.

    2. “So imperceptibly, that, even now, with Obama as president, many Americans don’t realize that they’re living under a dictatorship. Many, in fact, think that they’re better off than people were back in 1932 (that halcyon year!)”

      With the lone exception of ending segregation, people are much less free and the government much less accountable now than in 1932. Further, who is to say that people being better off is exclusive of a more oppressive government?

      You really do write some of the most ill considered crap on here.

      1. Lone exception? If you’re non-white, female, or LGBT, you’re more free (aside from tax burden) today from gov’t abuses than you would have been in 1932.

        But gov’t be damned, real wealth has gone up so dramatically since then for the majority of people… real freedom is being able to drive a car that almost never breaks down and travel nearly anywhere in the world in a matter of hours rather than months… or to get nearly any music or movie or book with a few flicks of your fingers…

        America’s much better than it was 80 years ago in terms of real freedom, despite the increasing scope and burden and vileness of the US gov’t.

        1. You confuse freedom with amenities.

        2. To the extent gays are more free, that has more to do with society than it does with government. We didn’t need to government to achieve that. If anything, government, via sodomy laws, stood in the way of that.

          Further, we are much less free to speak than we were 60 years ago. Think outside the orthasoxy on race or gender issues and your career ends. We also have much less privacy than then. You once could do radical things like deposit money in your own bank account without having to tell the govenrment about it.

          If your whole criterea for freedom is your ability to sodomize in peace and own a playstation and cell phone, you are right, we are more free. If you value much else, we are not.

          1. We would likely be a ton more free without all the government interference.

            For all you know, GDP would be 4x as large.

            1. That was addressing Joe_D

        3. We’re also free to drink alcohol now…

  3. Yglesias is such an ignorant boob. You have to be pretty profoundly ignorant of African American intellectual history not to know the split between Washington and De Boise.

    Yglesias, Greenwald and Klein are pretty much the Mount Rushmore of modern liberal ignorance. All of them went to top schools. All of them are supposed to be smart. Yet, none of them know anything that doesn’t fit into thier cartoon view of the world.

    1. Greenwald isn’t all bad, sometimes he’s actually quite good. But when he is wrong, he’s eyerollingly wrong.

      1. Other than objecting to torture, Greenwald isn’t right about anything. And even on that, he is like a stop clock. I find his knowledge of international law to be incredibly lacking.

        1. John – Greenwald is a big opponent of the WoD, and has held Obama’s feet to the fire on Medical Marijuana.

          1. They say a stopped clock is right twice a day not once. And further, for what reason is Greenwald against the WOD? I bet it isn’t out of any principle or belief in limited government. If the government launched a war on fatty food or books Greenwald didn’t approve of, that douschbag would be all for it.

        2. He can’t object to torture. Look at the way he writes!

    2. That’s what these idiots get from their group-think education and their group-think friends.

      The few liberals that actually do have an open-mind tend to learn more about the world from others.

  4. Clarence Thomas credited Thomas Sowell with shaping his thinking.

    1. Sowell is a great economist, and has written some great stuff on knowledge problems and Say’s Law, but there is a vaguely authoritarian streak to his thinking that I’ve never been comfortable with.

      1. Examples?

        1. Well, I remember him prattling on about traditional authority in the nineties, and his whole “the military should take over the country to restore the constitution” thing was pretty creepy. He once wrote a savage attack on Lincoln’s critics (which is interesting considering one of his best friends is noted Lincoln hater Walter Williams.) While I am no supporter of the Confederacy on any level, blind devotion to Lincoln strikes me as unseemly at the very least.

          1. This doesn’t seem authoritarian to me (from todays NRO):

            Dismantling America — Will the country wake up before it’s too late?

            By Thomas Sowell

            Just one year ago, would you have believed that an unelected government official, not even a cabinet member confirmed by the Senate but simply one of the many “czars” appointed by the president, could arbitrarily cut the pay of executives in private businesses by 50 percent or 90 percent?

            Did you think that another “czar” would be talking about restricting talk radio? That there would be plans afloat to subsidize newspapers ? that is, to create a situation where some newspapers’ survival would depend on the government’s liking what they publish?

            http://article.nationalreview……k4Yjk2MzE=

            1. I am not saying he is always or even usually authoritarian, but that he sometimes takes positions unbecoming one of his ability.

            2. More from the Sowell piece:

              How much of America would be left if the federal government continued on this path? President Obama has already floated the idea of a national police force, something we have done without for more than two centuries.

              We already have local police forces all across the country and military forces for national defense, as well as the FBI for federal crimes and the National Guard for local emergencies. What would be the role of a national police force created by Barack Obama, with all its leaders appointed by him? It would seem more like the brownshirts of dictators than like anything American.

              How far the president will go depends of course on how much resistance he meets. But the direction in which he is trying to go tells us more than all his rhetoric or media spin.

              Barack Obama has not only said that he is out to “change the United States of America,” the people he has been associated with for years have expressed in words and deeds their hostility to the values, the principles, and the people of this country.

              1. Nothing so epitomizes President Obama’s own contempt for American values and traditions as trying to ram two bills through Congress in his first year ? each bill more than a thousand pages long ? too fast for either of them to be read, much less discussed. That he succeeded only the first time says that some people are starting to wake up. Whether enough people will wake up in time to keep America from being dismantled, piece by piece, is another question ? and the biggest question for this generation.

  5. Knowing about Schuyler and Hurston is racist.

  6. i cringe whenever white progressives start talking about race. it is usually quite obvious that their interest in the subject lies almost purely in vindicating that their beliefs and their cause is the righteous one.

  7. I saw a bio of Hurston on one of the PBS stations not long ago. The documentarians didn’t seem to know what to do with her, politically. Yeah, she could have kicked Ayn Rand’s ass.

    1. Ten-round grudge match, in a cage? I’d watch that, and bet on Rand.

    2. How could anybody kick Ayn Rand’s ass? She’s like freaking Baba Yaga.

      1. She survived the early years of Soviet Russia, when uttering the wrong word could earn you a one-way ticket to Siberia. “Bad-ass” only begins to describe her. Rand in four.

    3. Hurston was a superior writer, hands down.

      1. I agree. And Hurston survived the Jim Crow South as a black woman. That is no mean feat.

        1. And she wrote the influential and enduring manifesto, LaQuesha Shrugged.

          Sorry.

  8. You mention that Schuyler has been labeled the “black H.L. Mencken.” That’s understandable, given his vintage, but I always think of him as a mid-century, staunchly conservative Christopher Hitchens — a powerhouse writer and thinker whose biggest strength was the sheer force of the rhetoric he produced.

  9. Tangental:

    Eric Holder says the United States is “a nation of cowards” when it comes to race relations.

    Rush tries to buy a football team and he is slandered. In fact the only comment attributed to him that he actually made was regarding the media’s treatment of McNabb (go Eagles!).

    So the lesson is, if you dare speak of race, it’s gonna cost ya.

    1. Well, that and calling the NFL a game of Bloods and Crips without the weapons.

      1. Which isn’t an altogether inaccurate desCRIPtion.

      2. citation needed

        1. Cf, Ray Lewis, Rae Carruth, Jamal Lewis, Michael Vick, Pacman Jones, Plaxico Burress.

          1. They all had weapons, so they don’t count.

  10. And right-wing libertarian loons like Ron Paul have been so very welcoming. God, you resonoids have lively imaginations. Stupid, but lively.

    1. It is really bad form to call people stupid after making an irellevent and stupid point yourself. What the hell does Ron Paul have to do with Booker T. Washington and Hurston?

      No, don’t answer that. I forgot you were stupid I mean liberal.

    2. Fuck off and die, Edward / Lefiti / Morris / Oscar.

    3. Actually,
      Edward/Leftiti/Morriss/../Oscar/I-wonder-what-his-next-handle-is-going-to-be we we led the charge against Slavery and Jim Crow, while your heroes were crafting laws that were designed to throw blacks out of work to keep the wages of white workers high.

      Thanks for demonstrating, yet again, the worthlessness of government schooling in your incoherent, semiliterate comments.

      BTW, enjoying your man John Edwards’ soap opera? You’ve been quiet about him as of late. 😉

    4. As one of the black conservatives that seem to be on the brain today, I have a question: why do liberals/leftists assume that I need to “feel welcomed” in my own country?

      I repudiate the notion that everyone needs to love black people. All I want you to do is stay out of the way of my liberty. I most certainly will return the favor.

  11. Little known fact about Booker T. Washington:

    He secretly arranged for the funding and representation for many black plaintiffs to challenge segregationist laws, such as in Giles v. Harris. (A case in 1903 that, sadly, upheld grandfather clauses.)

    He did so in the utmost secrecy, using coded messages so as not to jeopardize the public image of accommodation that gained him access to funds from white Americans.

    See the paper Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Canon by NYU School of Law’s Richard H. Pildes. It’s a 2000 article that’s a free download.

    1. Thanks for the links.

    2. I’m ashamed to admit that I read that as Democracy, Anti-Democracy, and the Coon.

    3. Thanks for this info & the links. Very interesting.

  12. I seem to remember that many blacks opposed the New Deal for two reasons: 1) FDR was not from the party of Lincoln, and in the mindset of the time, if you weren’t in the party of Lincoln, you weren’t shit; 2) the new deal mostly benefitted white workers at the expense of blacks, who historically took harder jobs at lower wages, much like today’s immigrants do.

  13. The black conservative tradition has been here all along. Historian David Beito has made a career of exploring it.

  14. Another underappreciated point about history:

    In the 1880s and 1890s, around the time of the Atlanta Compromise, there were several Southern states where disaffected Populist Democrats joined with white and black Republicans to come close to, or in a few cases succeed in, taking control of state government.

    In Virginia there was a formal party, the Readjuster Party that briefly held government, whereas in North Carolina electoral fusion between the Populists and Republicans resulted in taking the legislature (and thus both US Senate seats) and some US House seats in 1894 and the governorship and a larger majority in 1896.

    So at the time of Booker T. Washington’s speech in Atlanta in 1895, a Populist-Republican white-black coalition controlled North Carolina’s state government. Blacks were not just tokens; they held a great number of NC House, NC Senate, and even US House seats. Indeed, blacks had more NC House and NC Senate seats in that period than they have ever held since, including today.

    In such an atmosphere, it’s unsurprising that the possibility of compromise seemed tantalizing.

    Grandfather clauses and literacy tests were not adopted by a unanimous white population, either, and they weren’t immediately adopted after Reconstruction ended. They were adopted in several states in the threat of Populist-Republican white-black coalitions, and had a not incidental effect of disfranchising some rural poor whites as well. Even after a 1899 statute by Democrats has disfranchised blacks, the 1901 NC Constitution that made permanent disfranchisement only passed with 56% of the vote among the nearly all-white electorate.

    1. One odd thing about all this is that the Republicans and Populists used electoral fusion at the state level in NC and Tennessee at the very moment that the national Democratic and Populists parties were using electoral fusion and both nominating William Jennings Bryan!

  15. Oh wow, now THAT looks like fun dude!

    RT
    http://www.anonymous.ua.tc

    1. RT = Rump Taster

      1. That makes sense.

    2. That’s right, it’s FUN to be a black conservative dude!

  16. Fave parable from Booker T., who derided what he took to be blacks’ retreat to religion, and the clerical vocation in particular, as a retreat from work. It goes something like:

    Wa-al, I’zah giddup in dah mawnin’ and looks out on de cotton, and sez, Lawd, Dat sun is so hot, an’ dese fields is so grassy, why, I do believe dis niggah is called tuh preach!

  17. I take dumps that have 1,000x the IQ of Matthew Yglesias.

    He is one stupid and ignorant fuck.

  18. Wow, Anonymity dude’s algorithm didn’t work too well on this one. Racist.

    1. He wasn’t any more wrong than Yglesias. Maybe him and his algorithim can get a job with The Atlantic.

  19. Most, if not all, blog posts regarding Matt Yglesias can be summed up thusly:

    Matt takes off his ideological blinders for a moment & discovers a vast world of which he is shockingly ignorant.

    1. not when it involves “teh corporashuns1”

    2. the rest of posts go something like this:

      “hey, this [insert study, web page, tnr article] looks really cool. we should all do/be forced to do this. i went to harvard, so i know what’s best for everybody else on just about every topic. so, what’s needed is [insert five-year plan for broadband/street cars/public health clinics/etc… here].

      1. Yeah, I can honestly say he really devalued the Harvard degree for me. Goddamn, he has a degree in philosophy. Shouldn’t he have at least encountered critical thinking and logic somewhere in the curriculum?

  20. Christmas is coming. Time to get everyone you know a copy of Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Republican, hunter, first serious challenger to Chicago’s Daley machine, entrepreneur, commie hater, gun owner: Howard was on nobody’s reservation politically, but by almost every standard he was what we now think of as conservative. (Disclosure: I’m repping this book, but I’m also a customer!)

    Liberals think there’s no black conservative tradition because they think of black people as children who only recently, with much government support, have been able to engage in political debate at all.

    1. Bingo. That’s why Obama’s election was such a huge deal to them. It was understandable that people, whatever their political leanings, could appreciate the fact that a black man could be elected President. But for the left it was like it was a vindication of their project.

    2. Public education doesn’t help this much.

      Topics that are even slightly controversial are avoided because, well…they’re controversial and it’s a government institution.

      From what a lot of people are saying about electoral fusion and all that, it looks like race relations actually took a down turn to reach the point of the Civil Rights movement.

    3. Liberals think there’s no black conservative tradition because they think of black people as children who only recently, with much government support, have been able to engage in political debate at all.

      Let’s not indulge in strawmen, Tim. No need to stoop to their level.

    4. Say Tim, why is Jesse Walker so damned insecure?

    5. Time to get everyone you know a copy of Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power.

      So many people in my family would be angry at me if I got them that.

      Hmm…

      I have to admit, it’s tempting.

  21. Tim, conservatives are only old white men. Get with the program.

  22. The black conservative tradition has more in common with the current black radical tradition than it does with mainstream black Democratic liberalism. That is, black conservatives back in the day argued that blacks should rely on themselves and not even bother with white folk at all. The real father of black conservatism is Isaiah Montgomery, founder of Mound Bayou, Mississippi – an all black town near Jefferson Davis’s old plantation. The whole point of the enterprise was that blacks should not expect the redistribution of white planter wealth (as was sought during Radical Reconstruction) but should create their own society with their own institutions. Montgomery even supported Mississippi’s new Jim Crow and disfranchisement laws in the early 1890s as a means to keep blacks from bothering with the white power structure.

    As for Booker T., he actually became disillusioned with his own conservative self-help philosophy at the end of his life when he saw diligent blacks getting lynched BECAUSE they worked hard and were successful.

    1. And T.R.M. Howard was chief of surgery at Mound Bayou’s hospital.

      1. Interesting – I didn’t know that.

    2. Montgomery even supported Mississippi’s new Jim Crow and disfranchisement laws in the early 1890s as a means to keep blacks from bothering with the white power structure.

      Booker T. in public said he approved of the literacy tests in Alabama so long as they were applied to the races equally and fairly, and was himself granted a lifetime right to vote. In secrecy, as I mentioned above, he funded and found representation for legal challenges to these laws throughout the country.

      As for Booker T., he actually became disillusioned with his own conservative self-help philosophy at the end of his life when he saw diligent blacks getting lynched BECAUSE they worked hard and were successful.

      And also because the atmosphere when he made his Atlanta Compromise speech in 1895 was very different from ten or twenty years later. In 1895 there were Populist-Republican black-white coalitions electing politicians in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Texas, with command of the government in NC. The carpetbaggers had gone by this point; the Republicans in these states were natives.

      It was these successes that caused Democrats to disfranchise both blacks and many poor whites.

      Jim Crow and disfranchisement was not inevitable, and it especially did not look inevitable in 1895. The North got tired of policing it. The House had previously policed election violations; the Supreme Court and the House in 1903-1905 both decided to leave it up to the other. The North was ready for all traces of the war to be over, especially those who had never favored prosecuting it or continuing it in the first place.

      1. Actually, the moment of truth for Jim Crow was 1890. It was then that Congress turned down the Lodge “Force” Bill, which would have applied the Federal government to enforcement of the 15th Amendment (It was voted down in a pique over silver policy). At the same time, Mississippi’s constitutional convention passed the first modern disfranchisement law. Almost immediately afterward, MS and Louisiana passed the nation’s first full-on Jim Crow segregation laws. Other states followed suit shortly afterward – especially after Plessy in 1896. It’s true that Jim Crow and disfranchisement were not inevitable (as C. Vann Woodward pointed out), but that’s only true as far as the late 1870s are concerned. By 1895, Southern states were all well on their way down that path.

        You are correct re: the Populist coalitions. Southern Progressives wanted to “clean up” elections by removing ALL illiterate voters – black and white. But those were more of a factor in NC, GA, VA and TN than they were in MS and LA.

        Either way, by the time Booker T. gave his Atlanta Compromise speech, things were already looking very bleak for African Americans. And, yes, things would get far worse (riots in Wilmington 1898, Atlanta 1906, rampant lynchings everywhere) until 1915 when WWI opened up opportunities for blacks in the North.

  23. Throughout the New Deal era the relief program was the biggest weapon ever placed in the hands of those who sought power and votes. If the average American had been asked flatly to abandon his rights as a citizen and to submit to a personal rule, he would have chewed tobacco and spit white lime. But under relief, dependent upon the Government for their daily bread, men gradually relaxed their watchfulness and submitted to the will of the “Little White Father,” more or less. Once they had weakened that far, it was easy to go on an on voting for more relief, and leaving Government affairs in the hands of a few. The change from a republic to a dictatorship was imperceptibly pushed ahead.

    I can’t figure out if this guy was a racist or an uncle tom. What does olbermann think I should think?

    1. Neither. He’s an oreo.

    2. Zora Neale Hurston was not a guy.

      And it is interesting that she has had a resurgence of popularity since she was pretty much shunted to sidelines for years.

      I think half the people who show up at the annual festival in her honor in her hometown of Eatonvile, Fla would be horrified if they read some of her more politically incorrect writings.

  24. Once they had weakened that far, it was easy to go on an on voting for more relief, and leaving Government affairs in the hands of a few.

    That, in a nutshell, is the real driver behind the current push for “health care reform.”

  25. Why is Matt Yglesias paid to write?

  26. Someone actually PAYS that mendacious moron, Whozisface Yglesias? Every time I read something of his (mercifully it’s usually only short quotes), I am reminded of Cicero: (Rough translation) “To know nothing of the world before you were born is to remain forever a child.” Not long ago, Yglesias came up with the idea, never before imagined, of taxing the highest earners at a 90% rate. Only a few “major league pitchers” would complain, he promised. Does this guy even read? Now he displays his ignorance of black history. How on earth does he have “a following”? Un-effing-believable.

  27. Towards the end of Hahn’s review, he writes:

    “It is no accident that Obama’s is not the ‘up from slavery’ story; and the controversy over Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity Baptist Church in Chicago that almost sank his candidacy reminds us of the suspicions and the misunderstandings that still engulf many whites and blacks, especially those who do not move among the well-educated, and increasingly integrated, upper middle class.”

    Curiously, Hahn does not mention Catholic priest, Michael Pfleger, a white man, who was part of the Wright controversy.

    Hahn is attempting to turn political dislike for Obama into a mostly racial story. Give me a break.

    1. anon,
      Actually, aside from the Trinity “Baptist” Church error (it’s Trinity UCC), Hahn’s point is right. Rev. Wright horrified so many people because of his outright racial nationalism. Note his AIDS conspiracy theories. Hahn was simply pointing out that the furor of Wright in March 2008 brought to the fore a kind of radical racial politics that most Americans had not associated with Obama up to that point. And Wright was explicit about making the black middle class uncomfortable with its position in suburban south Chicago. Father Pfleger was always more of an afterthought because he wasn’t Obama’s own minister and surrogate father figure the way Wright was.

      This point does not, in any way, suggest that political dislike of Obama is racial.

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