I have moved on from Jason Riley’s biography of Thomas Sowell, and a review is forthcoming. In the meantime, I have segued over to Thomas Sowell’s 2007 memoir, A Man of Letters. This book is a collection of letters, and excerpts of letters, that Sowell wrote to friends and colleagues over a 40 year period beginning in the 1960s.
It is a side of Sowell that I hadn’t yet encountered, but his constitution, stubbornness, keen intellect and empiricism shine through in all of his correspondence. I have decided to devote several posts to quotes from these letters because they once again reveal a social and economic prophet whose work does not receive its due in the mainstream.
This quote from 1962 reveals Sowell’s growing apprehension about the direction of the civil rights movement. His misgivings about the aims of civil rights leaders will grow bolder as the years go by. Sowell was very committed to teaching in black colleges and the education of the next generation of black Americans. He was not apathetic towards ideals of equality. He simply thought that it was important for blacks to actually perform equally rather than just demand equal respect in every area; just because. He writes:
The more I follow the integration struggles in the South, the more I am inclined to be skeptical as to the acctual fruit of it all. It is awkward to stand on the sidelines and criticize people who are suffering for their ideals, and yet the question must be asked, “What is this going to do?” There seem to be so many other things with greater priority than equality-of-public-accommodations that the blind preoccupation with this one thing seems almost pathological. When one considers the apathy in the Negro community towards such things as the hopeless incompetence and irresponsibility of their own colleges and other institutions, the fervor generated in the fight for “integration” in all things at all costs seems more an emotional release than a sensible movement toward something that promises worthwhile benefit. If Howard University would just tell its students about the financial aid that is available, the summer jobs that are open, etc., it would do more than integrating every hamburger joint from here to Biloxi… p.20-21
As we will learn later, Sowell quickly learned that the rot in academia was not solely relegated to historically black colleges and universities. Even as he taught in the Ivy Leagues, he was frequently met with students and faculty who found his high standards unreasonable. He naively believed that he was being hired to truly impart “higher education”.