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Black Conservatives

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Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Among his numerous legacies, Booker T. Washington has been embraced by black conservatives as an enduring ideological model. Washington, who was born to a single slave mother and worked in the West Virginia coal mines before his teens, would go on to become founder and president of the Tuskegee Institute, one of the country's most successful education centers; by the early 1900s he was the United States' most important African American leader. Given his estimable success, Washington's avowed principles—chief among them self-reliance, thrift, and independence from government— have been championed by African Americans on the political right, including former Republican Congressman Gary Franks, businessman Ward Connerly, and economist Thomas Sowell, to name a few. All believe the modern day conservative movement (or in some cases, the libertarian movement) aligns closer with Washington's values than any other political orientation. To critics of Washington, most notably W. E. B. Du Bois, Washington's venerable accomplishments came at a price: The term "accommodationist," used often to describe Washington's approach to race relations, has largely become a pejorative meant to imply nonconfrontation in the face of social inequality. Consequently, accommodation is a common charge against contemporary black conservatives, who believe solutions to racial disparities need not originate from the state.

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