Written on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 by Nathaniel Davidson
Economist Dr Walter E. Williams has long been a favorite columnist of mine: a consistent common-sense defender of liberty and the American republic. Now, at the age of 74 and widowed a few years ago (after 47 years of marriage), he has written an instructive autobiography, Up from the Projects.
Williams points out that this country is unique: in other countries, those born poor stay poor, but here, you just can’t tell how people started off from their current successes. Many of our very wealthiest people in history, like Rockefeller and Carnegie, started off in far worse poverty than the “poor” of today. Williams himself, although a successful columnist and chairman of the George Mason economics department, was born in the middle of the Depression, and at a time of genuine anti-black racism.
But although he was born in 1936 into material poverty, his family didn’t consider themselves poor. What they lacked in material wealth, they more than made up with what he calls “spiritual wealth”.
Much of that was due to his mother. She was single—not from choice, but from abandonment. Rather than relying on the Government, she worked hard, was frugal, and also set high standards for Walter and his sister. Mrs Williams herself never completed high school, but realized the value of education for her children. What a contrast with today, when many blacks succeeding academically are beaten up for “acting white”. She also refused to tolerate bad behavior towards anyone, whether white or black, and didn’t hesitate to discipline with strikes of her hairbrush to Walter’s behind.
There was also little crime. With the lack of air-conditioning, families used to sleep outside during midsummer. Even much later, in 1958, Walter could take a nap in his cab late at night, but, “a cabbie doing the same thing today would be deemed suicidal.”
Williams is also grateful to his teachers for setting high standards, and refusing to make allowances for substandard work. And this was a time when they taught proper grammar, not modern frauds like “Ebonics”, and were not too politically correct to mark sentences “wrong”. Much later, he often said, “I am glad that I got my education before it became fashionable to like black people—at least everyone knows my qualifications are real.”
As a teenager, Williams took a variety of jobs to earn pocket money, which also taught him good habits. Now, as he has often pointed out, thanks to minimum wages pricing many black teenagers out of the job market, such avenues of self improvement are denied to them. Williams also saw first-hand how other well-intentioned laws, such as those against “child labor”, were really designed to keep out competition.
He also learned the value of money early, when he spent his lunch money. His mother refused to lend him a replacement, so Walter had go hungry for a few days, and never did this again! Now we see people rescued from the consequences of their follies, and even rewarded by the government, so the follies are perpetuated, a “moral hazard”.
Williams was drafted into the military in the 1950s, and this included a 13-month tour of duty in Korea. Before being shipped out, he made what he said was the wisest decision of his life: marrying Conchetta (“Connie”) Taylor in 1960. They had one daughter, Devyn (b. 1975).
The military had only recently been desegregated; segregation was the legacy of Democratic racists. Walter himself experienced blatant discrimination, such that in Korea he even listed his race as “Caucasian” to try to avoid it. He was also court-martialled on trumped-up charges. However, he represented himself and succeeded in having the charges dismissed (the charge sheet and acquittal are both photocopied in the book).
He caused much controversy with well-reasoned anonymous articles in the Philadelphia Independent, “The World’s Greatest Negro Tabloid”, documenting the racism in the army at the time. But they were a complete contrast with the modern racial grievance industry that denounces America and its Constitution: e.g. Obama’s pastor Jeremiah Wright’s “God damn Ameri-KKK-a”, the lie that the Constitution declared that blacks were 3/5 of a person (see Williams’ refutation), or Obama himself complaining that the Constitution didn’t allow wealth redistribution.
Instead, Williams pointed out how racism was contrary to the vision of equality taught by the Founders, and against the freedoms for which the US military has fought. He also pointed out that it set a bad example for those people in danger of Communism, if America didn’t practice what it preached. White racists also looked down on Koreans, hardly the way to win them over to the superiority of our system. Williams concluded by explaining that his points were not disloyalty to the country, but loyalty to its ideals when its policies didn’t match.
In 1963, Walter wrote to President Kennedy himself about such concerns, and received a genuine reply from the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Civil Rights). The role of conservative blacks in undoing racism is grossly underestimated—years before the liberal race-baiters who take all the credit came on the scene (see also the Patriot column Conservatives and Blacks).
Dr Williams had some good fortune in being able to study for his future career as an economics professor and syndicated columnist—but then he largely made his own luck, by being prepared to take advantage of it. Again, part of this good fortune was in professors who set high standards.
This contrasted with what happened later. He featured in a 1975 headline, “Racism? Temple professor opposes easy grades for blacks”, based on a memo to the Business Faculty. He pointed out that this practice ignores the actual damage to black students:
a. The benevolent paternalism of white faculty members tends to generate “hustler” attitudes among black students.
b. Fraudulent grading denies black students measures of their relative competency.
c. It fosters superiority attitudes among white students and tends to reinforce stereotypical views held of blacks
d. It undermines the effort and merit of those minority students who receive honest grades.
e. Regardless of the intent of double standards in grading, it plays into the hands of the most racist elements in our society for there is no more effective way of destroying the creditability of academic accomplishments by blacks.
Williams also refused any offers made because a department wanted “diversity”; he insisted on being hired based on his merits not his skin color. As one who had experienced racism first hand, he refused to support it when it benefited him, by becoming an “affirmative action” hire. This contrasts with many liberal race-baiters who don’t really oppose racism at all; they just want to be the ones doing the racial oppression!
Of course, this didn’t endear him to the campus liberals, but he gave freely of his own time to help black students who wanted to come up to his high standards.
In a leftist campus reception, he was asked about slavery. He pointed out that slavery was found in all cultures and races around the world; it was hardly unique to the antebellum South (see also Patriot column Wilberforce, slavery and the Tea Party). Then he was asked how he felt about his ancestors being enslaved (he is the great-grandson of slaves). He first explained that slavery was a despicable blot on humanity. But both the criminals and victims are long dead, so we can’t change this terrible fact of history. Then he absolutely shocked them with what came next:
He said that he, Walter Williams, has benefited enormously from the horrible suffering of his ancestors. That is, this enslavement of his ancestors enabled him to be born in America, where his opportunities, liberties and wealth were far greater than if he had been born in any African country—which would have happened if his ancestors had escaped enslavement. As he says, one can condemn a reprehensible practice without denying its beneficial effects on later generations.
Dr Williams’ short (150 pages) autobiography is a good example of the opportunities available in this country, regardless of wealth at birth or race. He also shows how much better off materially we are compared to his youth. But unfortunately for many young blacks, we are enormously worse off spiritually. Finally, my title was deliberately a little misleading: nay, Dr Williams is not so much a black patriot but an American patriot!