Each year, The Heritage Foundation Resource Bank provides the opportunity for hundreds of think tank executives, policy experts, elected officials, activists, and others to come together and discuss ways to advance the conservative principles of free markets and limited government. As president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, Lee Walker has worked for 24 years to do just that. At the 2004 Resource Bank, we were fortunate to have Lee chair a panel discussion on the “conscience of black conservatism.”
Nineteen-eighty was an important year for black conservatives. The idea of the New Coalition–now a leader in the conservative black movement–was born at a conference organized that year by Henry Lucas and Thomas Sowell. It was also the year Ronald Reagan–a true conservative the likes of which Americans had not elected president in decades–shocked the political establishment by carrying 45 states. It was the year that a third of the Polish population declared their support for Solidarity, and the Polish Communist Party granted Polish workers the short-lived right to strike. And it was Margaret Thatcher’s first full year as prime minister of the United Kingdom.
Of course, nobody would suggest that conservatism was born in 1980. For centuries before, thinkers like Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, and Milton Friedman spread conservative ideas through their writing, while activists from the American Founders through to Barry Goldwater and Walter Judd advanced the principles of conservatism in the political arena.
As Lee Walker details, the history of conservative blacks also long pre-dates 1980. Take, for example, the important work of Booker T. Washington in advancing education, religion, and an entrepreneurial spirit in this country. As he said, “with the exception of preaching the Gospel of Christ, there is no work that will contribute more largely to the elevation of the race in the South than a first-class business enterprise.”
Booker T. Washington was not only an important black figure in this country’s history; he was an important conservative figure as well. And his influence is proof that conservatism among blacks is not a new idea, nor is it destined to be the exception to the rule.
Many of the ideas conservatives fight for are appealing no matter what the color of one’s skin. Freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society are important to everybody, and it should come as no surprise that they are important to conservative blacks. President Bush has challenged the notion that blacks should see no alternative to the Democratic Party. It is just as important that it be made clear that conservative policies can succeed for all people. We must hammer this point home so that one day the many blacks who recognize and enjoy the opportunities created by a free society can be called what they truly are–simply and proudly conservative Americans.
Dr. Edwin J. Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation.