Neither Right nor Left: Grassroots Black Conservatism in Post-World War II America

by Chanelle Rose

Aug 25, 2020

Over the past two decades, the growth of scholarship on the history of modern conservatism and the rise of the New Right has moved this ideology from the margins of American society to mainstream political thought. Much of this work has foregrounded the lives, organizations, and political activity of white conservatives in the U.S. But scholars have begun to pay more serious attention to African Americans and their leadership in the Republican Party during the postwar era. Notwithstanding the significance of this emerging literature, it places a strong national and state focus on the instrumental role of black Republicans who waged an uphill battle to secure the GOP's commitment to civil rights and racial equality. My project adopts a more bottom-up approach to understanding the development of modern black conservatism and its impact on the African American struggle for racial equality, focusing on its evolution in local communities from 1950 to 1985. I contend that even though the important role of black Republicans and conservatives at the national level during this period has begun to receive more attention, the lesser well-known individuals and groups, especially black women, who helped to shape conservative ideas about crime, education, and economic advancement, require further study. In addition, there is a dearth of local studies that examine how ordinary men and women critically influenced conservative ideas about racial uprisings, Black Power, busing, welfare, police brutality, the War on Poverty, gay rights and feminism. I argue that while some African Americans ostensibly appropriated conservative ideas about family, morality, and individualism, others refashioned these ideas to address their racialized experiences.

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