Blogs > Liberty and Power > Damon W. Root Reviews Black Maverick in Reason

Mar 22, 2009 8:51 pm

Damon W. Root Reviews Black Maverick in Reason

The first review has already appeared of my new book, Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard's Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. I hope that this is the beginning of a trend. In the latest issue of Reason, Damon Root writes the following:

No single individual brought down the South’s Jim Crow regime, but there were a few dozen who played essential parts. Black Maverick convincingly elevates Howard to that rank. It also provocatively links Howard’s success to the controversial ideas of the 19th-century African-American leader Booker T. Washington, who had famously prioritized black economic independence over political liberty. In his celebrated “Atlanta Compromise” speech of 1895, Washington declared, “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours, but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercise of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house.” Howard’s life at least partially vindicates Washington’s much-criticized approach, showing, as the authors write, “that the growth of voluntary associations, self-help, business investment, and property ownership was the best precondition for civil rights.”

Indeed, one of the book’s most significant achievements is to highlight the indispensable role that black entrepreneurs and professionals played in the crucial early phase of the modern civil rights struggle. Several years before the appearance of Martin Luther King’s clergy dominated Montgomery Improvement Association, Howard’s RCNL relied primarily on the support of “undertakers, entrepreneurs, professionals, doctors, druggists, and owners of small farms.” These men used both their financial resources and their professional networks to support some of the earliest economic and legal challenges to Jim Crow. For Howard, this focus on economic independence remained constant throughout his career. As the authors note, “although Howard’s speeches resembled those of a Baptist preacher both in style and content, he had always emphasized business and the professions, not the church, as the vanguards of future success.”

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David T. Beito - 3/26/2009


James Otteson - 3/24/2009

I'm so glad to see that your book has appeared, David. I look forward to reading it.