Why Aren't There More Black Libertarians?
Many might say that the intimate group that I am going to be addressing is just a bit larger than the African American membership in the Klu Klux Klan, or maybe the number of Black people in the White Citizens’ Council in the 1960s in the South, or such.
You get the picture. For some reason, there are not many of us.
But many of you who are reading this at this moment, although not of African roots, could be or might indeed be a political or a philosophical libertarian, or both. And if so, you might be inclined to recruit and support more Afro American participation in a political movement of the future that is not attached to the special-interest gravy train. I submit that the latter thought conveys what is responsible for so much of the failure of prosperity and harmony in our nation today.
So, let’s begin with who is a libertarian, since so-called blackness is pretty apparent?
Many define a libertarian as a person who calls themselves one, or loves liberty, or some abstract definition, all the way to the opposite more thoughtful definition: “A libertarian is a person who believes that no individual has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force, fraud, or coercion against another, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Thus, those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim,” in the words of my esteemed libertarian author friend, L. Neil Smith.
So, who are the prominent Black or African American (or Afro American) libertarians in this nation today?
Larry Sharpe, in the Big Apple, comes to mind first, with his podcast and his recent run for governor of New York. Sharpe is a businessman with the gift of gab and an ability to translate the complexity of libertarian principles in easy-to-understand language. “I would love to have a society that is based only on volunteer associations. That would be amazing. I don’t think I’ll see that in my lifetime, so the closest I can get to that — that’s what I want,” Sharpe once said.
Dr. Anne Wortham was the Black presence and one of the few female voices in the Libertarian Party and movement prior to my activism that began in 1983. Her academic prowess took precedence over her political involvement up until her retirement as an esteemed professor at Illinois State University a few years ago.
“The harmony and stability of the collectivist society envisioned by Rousseau and Durkheim depends on people viewing the constraints of society and the sovereign will of the state as the natural order of things,” she wrote in a 2012 critique of President Barack Obama. “They must also transfer to civil society the commitment they had traditionally held for the sacred, and schools must teach children the importance of the political community’s claim to their loyalty and of their commitment to the morality of the collective.”
Libertarians, with Wortham, understand well the dangers of such collectivistic societies.
Duke University grad, scientist and marathon runner Wilton Alston became a significant Black libertarian voice as a prolific writer for the past two to three decades or so, while yours truly spoke, wrote, appeared on radio and television, and ran for public office as a Libertarian for many years.
In May 2020, Alston bravely spoke out against the lockdowns. “Not only does remaining in lockdown hurt the economically vulnerable, it could hurt the entire population going forward. It seems clear that the damage done because of the lockdown has far outstripped even the imagined benefit from flattening the curve,” he wrote in a commentary for the Libertarian Institute.
Then there’s radio host Brian Thomas in New Bedford, Massachusetts, former LP National Committee member Joseph Brennan, previously of Brooklyn, now in London, for many years.
Considering the vast size and diversity of our nation, changes are that there are others who have recently joined LP groups throughout the country, and will soon be heard from, when one considers the times and the entrenched policies of the “Bi-Partisan Party” throughout.
I am also aware of a few almost and former “Libertarians of Color” (couldn’t resist that): Maj Toure of Black Guns Matter from Philadelphia, who promotes and defends lawful gun ownership in the Black community. And oh yes, there’s Larry Elder, who claimed to be one of us for a while, but in the early 2000s appeared to excuse and become an apologist for the non-libertarian U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in Iraq and other interventions.
I bet you have questioned why, having read this far, two of the most famous Black libertarians ever have not been mentioned. I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Who are they? Of course none other than the economists Thomas Sowell, and the late, great Walter E. Williams, who left us in December 2020.
Both of these intellectual giants generally downplayed the libertarian label, but if you actually understand the philosophy of liberty upon which this nation was founded hundreds of years ago, along with the additional understanding and mastery of non-Keynesian economics, they qualify quite clearly as libertarian.
I used to joke that there were only three Afro American or Black libertarians on earth: Williams, Sowell and me, and that we made a pact to never fly on the same plane at the same time, for fear of losing all Black libertarians in one accident.
Grasping basic economic concepts tends to enhance one’s understanding of the real world, and most Americans don’t even begin to comprehend anything economic, not to mention my ethnic counterparts, who are still trying to gain parity in the basics of life, no less trying to comprehend even basic economics.
Historically, Black Americans were mostly Republicans from that party’s inception. However, FDR’s promises under the New Deal shifted almost all Black voters to the Democrats from the 1930s on. I submit that neither group has “freed us,” and the latter seem to take Black people for granted these days, or treat us more like pets than free people. We Afro Americans happen to be, just as all citizens are, separate and distinct individuals, not a voting block, tribe or such. Republican or Democrat, name your poison. The heavy hand of the state under both parties has failed us all.
And in my almost four decades of activism in the Libertarian Party at all levels as well as the freedom and liberty movement, I can say the Libertarian Party has always stood for true freedom. That very freedom that has eluded us and that so many have been seeking and dying for for centuries, is what libertarian principles are all about. The Founders understood that, and so can you, not just Black folks, if you actually think about it. The Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” in its very first stanza speaks of liberty, not equality, two very different things. When my African American culture finally recognizes that, then the long struggle can finally end. Early 20th century Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist William Allen White so eloquently reminded us: “Liberty is the only thing that you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.”
Finally I must say that the most important African American libertarian to ever grace this planet was one Frederick Douglass, my mentor, muse and exemplar. Douglass not only courageously fought against the represensible institution of slavery, but did so while always strongly defending classical liberalism.
If you are so moved after reading about the few of us, join us, Black, White, Blue or Green.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.
Richard Boddie is a member of the Southern California News Group's editorial board. He is a longtime member of the Libertarian Party and sought the party's nomination for the 1992 presidential election. His opinion pieces can be read on The Orange County Register.