Thomas Sowell

Bill O'Reilly of "The O'Reilly Factor" is one of the few major media figures who does not hesitate to criticize Jesse Jackson, so it was appropriate that the author of a critical new book about Jackson appeared on that program. The book is aptly titled Shakedown, in honor of the Reverend Jackson's success in extracting millions of dollars from weak-kneed corporations that are fearful of his calling them "racist."

On the program with the author was a loudmouth Jackson supporter. When O'Reilly quoted something critical of Jackson said by Washington Post columnist William Raspberry, the response was that Raspberry wouldn't be where he is without Jesse Jackson. This is a standard evasion of criticisms of black "leaders." It is also hogwash.

William Raspberry is not the first black columnist, nor even the first black writer at a major white publication. Before either Bill Raspberry or Jesse Jackson was born, black writer George Schuyler wrote for a leading literary magazine called The American Mercury, edited by the legendary H. L. Mencken. All this was decades before the civil rights revolution and before the phrase "affirmative action" had been coined.

Black writers are nothing new. Back in the late 19th century, Charles W. Chesnutt was published in The Atlantic Monthly. And back in the late 18th century, Gustavus Vassa published a book that went through eight editions. Somehow, they managed to do this without Jesse Jackson or affirmative action.

Why Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bill Raspberry would not have been able to follow in their footsteps without Jesse is one of the mysteries of our time.

From time to time someone tells me that I would not have been able to do this or that without affirmative action. But everything that I have done was done by other blacks before me -- and therefore long before the civil rights revolution of the 1960s or affirmative action.

My academic career began before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I was by no means the first black professor at a white institution or even the first black economist in the Ivy League. Nobel Prize-winning black economist W. Arthur Lewis taught at Princeton before I taught at Cornell. The first black faculty member at a major university was Allison Davis at the University of Chicago in 1940.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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