The Forgotten History of Libertarian Anti-Racism


In their superb 2009 book Black Maverick, the historians David Beito and Linda Royster Beito resurrected the remarkable story of civil rights activist and profit-minded entrepreneur T.R.M. Howard, a man who "consistently pushed an agenda of self-help, black business, and political equality" during some of the deadliest years of Mississippi's Jim Crow regime. It's one of the best books around on the central role that classical liberal ideas played in America's long struggle for racial equality.

Writing in the latest issue of The Independent Review, the Beitos return to the topic of "laissez-faire antiracism" with an account of libertarian writer Rose Wilder Lane's 1942-1945 run as a columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier, which was then one of the country's leading black newspapers. While the full article is not yet available online, Auburn University philosophy professor Roderick Long has been kind enough to collect some of the highlights:

Before her discovery of the Courier, Lane by her own admission had had a blindspot on the issue of race; she had "heard of lynchings and other racial injustice, but had assumed they were isolated incidents." After she began reading the Courier's documentation of the extent of racial oppression in the u.s., she declared that she had been an "utter fool" and a "traitor" to the "cause of human rights." (p. 284) Soon she had joined the paper's campaign against racism by becoming one of its regular writers….

[I]n the Beitos' judgment, "[n]o libertarian has ever more creatively weaved together antiracism and laissez-faire than Lane." (p. 283) According to the Beitos, Lane "anticipated … the strategy of the lunch-counter sit-ins of the 1960s" by suggesting that blacks should "emulate the crusade of … women like her who had once asserted their right to smoke in restaurants." (p. 284) She also subverted the assumptions of traditional discourse on race by talking about the need to "solve the White problem" (after all, it's those doing the oppressing who constitute the problem) and parodying stereotypical portraits.

Read the whole thing here. Read more about classical liberalism and the fight for equal rights here.