Six times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On looks at prominent African American conservatives.
While ideological and historical models for the African American conservative movement stretch as far back as Booker T. Washington (some might even argue as far back as Paul Cuffee, the famed late-eighteenth-century sailor and philanthropist), a viable—and potentially influential—organization did not exist until the end of the civil rights era. In fact, it was the perceived excesses of the civil rights movement that spurred a conservative backlash by a small group of black scholars.
Previously the near-exclusive province of prominent whites, influential conservative public policy think tanks such as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research began hosting like-minded black colleagues in the late 1970s. Though their numbers have always been small, traditional black adherents to conservatism have maintained a remarkably disciplined platform, which includes support for open and free markets, a belief that government-sponsored poverty eradication programs have failed, an animus toward a perceived overemphasis on white racism among contemporary black leadership, and a feeling that African Americans are best served by relying on themselves.
Though perhaps not self-identifying as conservative—some may hold conventionally liberal foreign policy views, while others, such as John McWhorter, would likely describe themselves as libertarian or moderate—all of the following African Americans are notable in that they hold (or have held) a philosophy generally associated with conservative political thought. One other note: with the exception of Zora Neale Hurston, there are no women in the following list. Though women such as Amy Holmes, La Shawn Barber, and Angela McGlowan are becoming recognized advocates of conservative policies, none can yet claim the level of authority or influence as the following. Until recently, black conservative leadership has simply been dominated by men.
View photo essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African American conservatives. (Access is available only to subscribers.)