Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and he is the editor of The American Spectator. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004); The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007); The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007); and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
My Top 10 Black Conservatives
Editor’s note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
In a column for The American Spectator last week, Mary Grabar asked, “Why does Black History Month ignore the author of ‘the most talked about column in Negro America?’” That label for the late, great George Schuyler was given by a writer for American Mercury magazine, and it fit.
Schuyler was enormously influential, and yet, as Grabar notes, “This once famous, trailblazing writer has been memory holed.”
That has happened because of prejudice. That is, political prejudice by leftist historians and academics and the whole stinky Kultursmog, as the venerable R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., has described it. The reason for the deep-sixing of Schuyler is that he was a black conservative. More than that, he was a stalwart anti-communist who, from his perch at the great Pittsburgh Courier, arguably America’s leading black newspaper, called out black Marxists like W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, and gushing Stalinist Paul Robeson.
As for Hughes, whose poetry is now read in public schools, he had declared: “Put one more ‘S’ in the USA to make it Soviet. The USA when we take control will be the USSA.” In one poem, Hughes put it this way: “Goodbye Christ, Lord Jehovah; Beat it on away from here, make way for a new guy with no religion at all; A real guy named Marx, Communism, Lenin, Peasant, Stalin, worker, me.”
To George Schuyler, that was outrageous. It was less poetry than sophistry. It was outrageous pabulum, odious propaganda for a lethal ideology that killed countless millions.
And yet today the writings of Langston Hughes, not Schuyler, are read to schoolchildren. Paul Robeson is celebrated, including with a Paul Robeson Cultural Center at Penn State University, among other things named for him at our universities.
As for George Schuyler, not only was he never suckered by these deadly ideologies, but he sounded the alarm against them. He took on the likes of Du Bois and Hughes and Robeson. It was a key reason why he was indeed once the most influential black columnist in the country.
And yet, who are the black Americans honored today during Black History Month? Well, it’s always refreshing to see Jackie Robinson and Rosa Parks on a list, but it’s sickening to see the likes of Du Bois and Robeson, and yet no Schuyler, a great American and a great talent who honored the United States, not the USSR.
All of this got me thinking about my own list of notable black Americans for Black History Month. More specifically, how about a list of prominent black conservatives? How about a personal top 10? In service thereof, dear readers, here is my list, beginning with George Schuyler and then in no particular order:
Thomas Sowell — It would be hard not to start this list with Thomas Sowell. Sowell is one of the most insightful and respected conservatives in the country and was arguably regarded as the nation’s top black conservative intellectual. His academic pedigree includes a Harvard B.A., a Columbia M.A., and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he studied under George Stigler and Milton Friedman. He would later fittingly be named the Rose and Milton Friedman Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, a position he has held into the 2020s and his 90s.
Sowell has long written for The American Spectator, beginning with his first piece back in October 1975.
Walter Williams — Like his close friend and fellow brilliant economist Thomas Sowell, Williams wrote for The American Spectator for many decades. Our July 1982 edition flagged on the cover a Williams piece titled, “A Recipe for a Good Society.” Williams was listed as a professor of economics at George Mason University, a position he held for a long time. If there was a black conservative more popular than Thomas Sowell, it was Walter Williams, who particularly rose to national prominence through guest hosting for Rush Limbaugh.
It was a sad loss for America when Williams left the world in December 2020. Personally, I was honored to know him as a fellow professor at Grove City College, where he had taught and for decades served as one of our board members.
Manning Johnson — This is a name, like George Schuyler’s, that will not be familiar to most readers, which is unfortunate. I profiled Manning Johnson at length in my book The Devil and Karl Marx (chapter 10). Johnson (1908–1959) was a brave ex-communist who testified before Congress in July 1953 about the extraordinary efforts by the Communist Party USA to infiltrate society and most notably the mainline Protestant churches. His information on infiltration was shocking. I cannot do it justice here.
Johnson also spoke about how American Communists sought to mislead, dupe, and exploit black Americans. Johnson had served on the National Negro Commission, an important subcommittee of the Communist Party USA. It was important because of the vigorous push by the CPUSA and the Soviet Comintern to attempt to organize black Americans into a segregated “Negro Republic” in the South (yes, seriously). That commission, said Johnson, was created “on direct orders from Moscow to facilitate the subversion of the Negroes.” In that capacity, Johnson quickly realized the extent to which “the Negro is used as a political dupe by the Kremlin hierarchy.” The white Communists used black Communists as their “Negro lickspittles.”
Like George Schuyler, Johnson tried to warn the likes of Du Bois and Hughes and Robeson about the dangers of Soviet Communism. They never listened. And like Schuyler, sadly you will not find Manning Johnson remembered fondly today on Black History Month lists alongside Du Bois and Hughes and Robeson, nor is he read in our lousy government schools.
Clarence Thomas — This name needs no explanation, and if I got started, it would be hard to stop. But I will say this: Read Clarence Thomas’ gripping memoir, My Grandfather’s Son. There, among other things, Thomas explains why in 1980 he left the Democratic Party. Like Ronald Reagan, he felt the party had left him and that its policies were hurting rather than helping blacks, and he endorsed Ronald Reagan for president. “I had become a Republican in order to vote for him in 1980,” wrote Thomas. “In the fall of 1980, I changed my voter registration.” He explained his rationale: “I saw no good coming from an ever-larger government that meddled, with incompetence if not mendacity, in the lives of its citizens, and I was particularly distressed by the Democratic Party’s ceaseless promises to legislate the problems of blacks out of existence. Their misguided efforts had already done great harm to my people, and I felt sure that anything else that they did would compound the damage.”
This was a lesson that Clarence Thomas had learned from his hardworking grandfather, and that black liberal Democrats have not yet learned. Thomas said: “I thought that blacks would be better off if they were left alone instead of being used as guinea pigs for the foolish schemes of dream-killing politicians and their ideological acolytes.”
Thomas there spoke for many black conservatives. Liberals loathe him.
Star Parker — The first time I saw the fiery Star Parker, she was speaking to an audience of indoctrinated college students at some uselessly typical university. She snapped, “Give us Barabbas! Is that what you want?” They had become so corrupted that if given the choice of a Barabbas with a “D” (Democrat) next to his name in the voting booth, they would choose him over Christ. A harsh judgment, yes. But then Parker caught herself, granting that her audience had probably never heard of Barabbas. After all, these were students at a modern university.
Alan Keyes — I have long been a fan of Alan Keyes. I can proudly claim that my first vote for president was for a black man that was not Barack Obama. It was for Alan Keyes. If only some 60 million or so Americans had joined me, what a better country it would have been.
For the record, Keyes, like Sowell and Williams, offers another American Spectator connection that goes way back. Keyes actually started at the American Spectator in 1972 when it was called The Alternative and headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. remembers the precocious young man from Harvard, blessed with a “first-class analytical mind.” He recalls Keyes as not merely “extremely eloquent,” but a step beyond, speaking more like a “citizen of ancient Athens, living just down the street from Pericles. He had studied under the Classics professor Allan Bloom at Cornell University, and was studying under Edward Banfield at Harvard. He was at this stage of his education either an Aristotelian or a Platonist. Frankly, I have forgotten.”
But we have not forgotten Keyes’ brilliance.
Candace Owens — Candace Owens reminds me of Keyes because of her bold eloquence. Like Keyes, she is skilled in polemics, in a positive way, engaging her adversaries with wit, voice, and courage. I first encountered her while watching her engage a witless Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) during a congressional interrogation, as Owens informed the dimwit from New York that he clearly was not even listening to her. Owens is the youngest name on this list, and she shall continue to shine.
Eldridge Cleaver — You are no doubt shocked to see this infamous Black Panther on my list. But did you know that by the 1980s Cleaver had done a 180 and become an outspoken Reagan conservative? Oh, yes. He even ran for Congress against Rep. Ron Dellums (D-Cal.), the pro-communist Democrat from Berkeley. Cleaver also made clear that he had become an enthusiastic supporter of President Ronald Reagan, the former California governor he had once militantly opposed. Cleaver’s conversion began when he became a political pilgrim to the Communist world, from Havana to Pyongyang, whereupon, like so many Potemkin progressives, he was smacked upside the skull by human reality. From there, the leftist scales started falling from Cleaver’s eyes.
Look it up. I recommend the February 1986 interview that Cleaver did with Reason magazine.
Malcolm X — Yes, another surprise. Malcolm X, a conservative? Well, he wasn’t a liberal, that’s for sure.
Malcolm X was a highly complex and independent individual. He did not trust liberals and Democrats, especially Lyndon Johnson. He shocked blacks and whites alike when in 1964 he came out for Barry Goldwater. He was attracted to Goldwater’s conservative championing of the individual and the senator’s belief that the best way to help individuals, regardless of color, was to help them help themselves. They needed to look within, and not look to the state.
Veteran journalist Charlie Wiley knew Malcolm X well. He watched his evolution and interviewed him at length several times. He profiled him for a March 1965 cover feature for National Review.
In sum, that is a personal top 10, though it’s admittedly limited by who I’m regrettably forgetting at the moment. I’m sure that as I think about this list longer, I’ll come up with other names. Who have I forgotten? Share some names with me in the readers’ comments. Maybe next year I will update the list.
In fact, maybe next year I’ll give my 10 least favorite black leftists. Here’s a head start: W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Ben Hooks, Jesse Jackson, Stacey Abrams, Sheila Jackson Lee, Joy Reid, Angela Davis, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Patrisse Cullors.
Wait, that’s more than 10. Well, I’ll need to start refining that list. Any suggestions there, too?
But let’s set the lefties aside. This is a month to celebrate black achievement. My 10 black conservatives deserve to be honored. How about yours? *