Saviors or Sellouts: The Promise and Peril of Black Conservatism, from Booker T. Washington to Condoleezza Rice

By Christopher Alan Bracey | Go to book overview
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TWO
The Dawn of the Twentieth Century

Black Conservatism's Peak and
W.E.B. DuBois's Dramatic Assault against It

The dawn of the twentieth century proved to be the high-water mark of conservatism in black American political expression. The precepts of black conservative thought—pragmatic optimism, accommodationism, respect for Western institutions, and middle- class morality—had been validated in the lived experience of black leaders and businessmen in the North and South for nearly a century. These precepts not only served as the central animating principles of black political discourse but defined the structure and character of leading black social, political, and economic institutions. The black American vision of social progress and engagement had begun to crystallize, and its predominant trait was conservatism.

From a modern vantage point, it is difficult to imagine a world in which black Americans, often viewed as an unflinchingly liberal and progressive community, were by and large proponents of conservatism. This is especially true of liberals, who typically interpret the epic struggle for black racial empowerment as one characterized by flagrant opposition to the American status quo, relentless agitation and protest, and as sustained challenge to the racial orthodoxy etched in American public and private institutions. From this perspective, the freedom struggle was and is a progressive movement, with a decisively liberal posture. Conservatism, by contrast, is generally understood as marginally, if at all, relevant to the

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