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Glenn Loury's 'confessions of a Black conservative'

(Rick Friedman / Contributor)
(Rick Friedman / Contributor)

Glenn Loury is a renowned Black economist and conservative social critic.

He often rails against identity politics.

But in his new memoir, he explores everything that goes into crafting his own identity, including his struggles with adultery to addiction, all while a professor at Harvard.

Today, On Point: Glenn Loury’s ‘confessions of a Black conservative.’

Guest

Glenn Loury, professor of economics and social sciences at Brown University. At the age of 33, he became the first African American professor of economics at Harvard University to gain tenure. Loury is also known as a leading Black conservative social critic, particularly on race issues. Author of “Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative.”

Book Excerpt

 

Excerpt from Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative Glenn Loury. Not to be reprinted without permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Transcript

Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Glenn Loury is a renowned Black economist. He was an academic superstar in the past. At the age of 33, he became the first Black scholar to be granted tenure in Harvard’s economics department. Professor Loury is now 75 years old and teaches at Brown University.

And he’s out with a new memoir called “Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative.” A fitting title, as Black and conservative are the two identities he grapples with throughout the book. Identities he both strongly associates with, but at times have felt like they were at odds. After graduating from MIT in 1967 with his PhD in economics, Loury was projected to be one of the great economic theorists of his time.

But in the early 1980s, he made a crucial pivot from economic theory to social critic. More specifically, he became a leading conservative Black voice. He’s been a critic of the Civil Rights Movement, of affirmative action and the Black Lives Matter movement. That won him praise from conservative thinkers, but also scorn from many Black leaders and other progressive leaders, including Harvard colleague and friend, Martin Kilson, who once called Loury, quote, “A pathetic Black mascot of the right,” end quote.

Glenn Loury tells that story, and many more, in his memoir that reads both as provocation and searing self-examination. And he joins us. Professor Loury, welcome to On Point.

GLENN LOURY: Oh, Meghna, it’s so good to be with you. I loved your intro.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m honored to have you on the show, actually, and I’m looking forward to take up the challenge that you put in the first pages of the book about, I can’t let my cynicism or skepticism down when interrogating your memoir here, okay?

LOURY: (LAUGHS)

CHAKRABARTI: But let’s start off with that story of Martin Kilson calling you a pathetic Black mascot of the right. Can you tell us what led to that pretty harsh comment?

LOURY: Marty Kilson who, by the way, was the first African American to be a tenured member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard back in the 1960s or early ’70s, was a friend of mine when I came to Harvard in 1982, he befriended me and my wife, Linda, invited us to his summer house in Dublin, New Hampshire.

And we talked about all manner of things, social science and African American, but he was disappointed in me when I, as it were, came out of the closet as a neoconservative, I had a piece in the New Republic called a New American Dilemma, where I had my diagnosis and my analysis of the race situation. The Civil Rights Movement is over, the issues of discrimination are passe, the real questions are what’s going on inside Black families and Black communities and the enemy within, this kind of talk. And Marty was very disappointed in me and called me out.

CHAKRABARTI: Now, to be clear, you use this word neocon. I often, I most often associate that with a bellicose foreign policy that led to a couple of really tragic wars.

LOURY: That’s not what I meant.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. Okay. So clarify.

LOURY: I meant the liberals who’ve been mugged by reality, the Irving Kristol types, who used to be socialist or even communist and who moved right.

And among which, manifestations of their moving right was a bellicose foreign policy, Jeane Kirkpatrick and interventions in the Middle East and all that. But no, I meant, in terms of race issues and social policy issues.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. We’re going to actually just do a little backward movement in time here slowly.

What is it that led you to publicly making that turn, to becoming a high profile Black social conservative and focusing less than on, as I said, what many said was to be one of the most promising economic theorists or careers of an economic theorist in some time.

LOURY: That’s good to hear. When I came out of MIT, now, we’re talking a half century ago, 1976 is when I took my PhD. And it was a wonderful place, the best department on the planet, I think, with future Nobel laureates galore all around. And some of them were on my dissertation committee.

And I was a high-flying prospect. I did very well. I was at the top of my class. I got offers at Berkeley and Northwestern and Harvard. And other places. And I ultimately decided to go back to my undergraduate alma mater, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, as an assistant professor.

I was flying pretty high. I had some good, strong publications early in my career that got the attention of people. And I had thought I’d make my life in economic theory, doing abstract mathematical modeling, and publishing in journals and winning prizes. But when I got to Harvard in 1982, I had a crisis of confidence and wondered whether or not I could actually deliver at the very highest level of my discipline, perhaps succumbed a bit to an imposter syndrome type psychological trap, and I lost my nerve.

I say in the book, I choked. I try to explain what I mean by that.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. I’m going to jump in here, forgive me. Cause I know you like a robust back and forth. I listened to your podcast with John McWhorter, so I’m going to be unafraid to jump in here. Here’s what I don’t get. You got a PhD in economics from MIT and then you go to Harvard, and you feel like imposter syndrome.

I don’t get it. What caused that feeling of imposter syndrome?

LOURY: I was jointly appointed in economics and in Afro American studies. So I had dual responsibilities in humanities, that’s Afro studies, and in the social sciences. I was young, but I’m not answering you. Why did I feel inadequate somehow?

And I think we might need a deeper psychological examination to get to the bottom of it. Everybody was famous around the faculty room table, when the economics department would meet. I knew all of their biographies and their professional work. And I wondered, was I really at that level?

But it’s something worth pondering. I try to explore it in the book, but I’m not sure even now that I’ve got my finger entirely on why I choked. My friend and colleague Thomas Schelling, the great economist, the late great economist, warned me. He said, “Come on, we’re all a bunch of neurotics around here. Everybody’s worried about whether they can continue to deliver as they have done in the past. Just relax and do your work.”

I should have just relaxed and tried to do my work. Instead, I panicked, worried whether I’d make the mark that I wanted to make at Harvard and I shifted perspective. I moved from the economics department to the Kennedy School of Government. And I began doing public intellectual commentary and punditry and social critical writings in popular magazines, as opposed to academic writing.

CHAKRABARTI: Professor, let me ask you, how are you feeling right now?

LOURY: Right now?

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah.

LOURY: But for the fact that a month ago I had a serious spine surgery and I’m still recovering from that. But in light of the fact that my book, Late Admissions: Confessions of a Black Conservative, just came out May 14th, which is now less than two weeks ago, I’m feeling pretty good.

CHAKRABARTI: Good. Okay. Because, you know, I have to say, the uncertainty that I’m hearing in your voice right now and the open admission that you don’t actually know the answers to some of the questions that I’m going to be posing to you, because maybe they deserve more time and investigation than we have time for.

It’s a very different Glenn Loury than I’m used to hearing, right? That you on the public stage, you’ve been caught very confident in your opinions, in your analysis, very unafraid to take the criticisms that you have taken, and to also clap back, if I can say. Again, I’ve heard in the podcast with John McWhorter multiple times when you say with passion and clarity and no uncertainty whatsoever that you think or thought that affirmative action was an insult to Black Americans. So that confident Glenn Loury is not entirely what I’m hearing now, or it’s actually not even, that Glenn Loury is not present very consistently in the book. So why is that?

LOURY: Oh, what an interesting question. The book is a self-examination as much as it is a report to the audience at large about my life.

It is a confrontation with my life. I’ve been asking myself these questions, what happened at Harvard in the early 1980s? And what about that guy who was at the top of his class, the whiz kid coming out of MIT, who ended up in politics? What, how did that happen? What about my relationships in my personal life with my children, with my father, with my mother, what was at the root of some of the things that went on?

What about my flirtations with Christianity that somehow didn’t hold, or my struggle with cocaine addiction and how did I come to find myself in that position? I asked myself as many questions I think as the reader would ask of me, when I revisit those passages in my life. So in examining myself, I’m perhaps on less secure and firm ground than I think I am when I’m opining about something as minor as affirmative action.

CHAKRABARTI: I have to say, I really appreciate that response. Professor Loury, because we are all definitely on less certain ground when we have to turn the camera so profoundly on ourselves. One last question. We just got 30 seconds before our first break. I want to just link, go back to what Martin Kilson told you.

You write in the book that apparently, in his view, you were a credit to your race only if you were playing for the right political team. And that your politics had nullified your achievements and Blackness in his eyes. Do you still feel that’s the case in terms of the criticisms you received in the ’80s?

LOURY: Yeah. And also, sometimes in terms of the criticisms that I receive even today, and this has been a theme for me. The authenticity theme that, how Black are you? And I juxtapose the sense of wanting to be recognized and honored as a member of the tribe, quote-unquote, on the one hand, and wanting liberty to think my own thoughts and to be a critic.

Part II

CHAKRABARTI: Professor Loury, before we continue here, I just want to say thank you again for being willing to do this. I know, being on the radio helps sell books. I’m very clear about that. But anytime, anybody, no matter what phase or station of life they’re in, professor or not, when they’re willing to come on and have to endure a lot of questions about themselves, personally.

I’m always very grateful for that and protective of that. Because there’s a reason why I’m on this side of the microphone, professor. Because I would never answer questions about my personal life on the radio.

LOURY: (LAUGHS)

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so let’s actually go back to your childhood growing up, because there’s a lot of experiences you had that both positively and perhaps negatively informed who you became later.

You grew up in the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. What was the South Side like then? What it was like for you?

LOURY: Oh, in recollection, it was an idyllic existence, it was middle class, working class residential neighborhood that had been all white in the early ’50s and became all Black by the time you got to the early ’60s.

I was born in 1948. We lived on a tree lined street. The people kept the lawns in the front, there were fruit trees in the backyards. You played stick ball in the alley. You left your bicycle on the lawn without any concern. You never heard a gunshot or saw a drug vial in the street. I grew up in my Auntie Lois and Uncle Mooney’s home.

My mother’s sister and her husband, they had a big, beautiful home, a six bedroom. And they carved out a little space upstairs in the back for my mother, my sister, and I, my mom was a single mom. I knew my father, but they divorced early. I was never hungry. I didn’t consider myself to be poor, although I expect there wasn’t a lot of money to go around, but it was different.

In the 1950s and early ’60s then, the south side of Chicago it is today. That very same neighborhood that I grew up in is not a place that I would want to imagine raising children today.

CHAKRABARTI: Can I just jump in here for a second? Because when you say that you didn’t consider yourself poor, that is almost exactly what many years ago, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick said or wrote in actually one of his memoirs. And he told me about that. He said, a real big difference is we, his mother specifically, would never allow the family to think that they were poor because she was very concerned about the mindset that came along with that.

LOURY: Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: They were open about not having enough money, but being, like literally being poor, was not something that she was going to allow him to succumb to as a way of seeing himself.

Is that what you’re talking about?

LOURY: Yeah, I think so. He’s from Chicago.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. He’s literally from Chicago too. Exactly.

LOURY: I think I’m a little older than he is, but not that much. And yeah, the mindset, there’s a sense of dignity and a striving and whatnot. There were poor people. We just weren’t among them.

We knew poor, Black people, but we weren’t. We didn’t consider ourselves to be poor.

CHAKRABARTI: So then tell me more of how, as you moved into adolescence and in your late teens, there were some pretty significant events that happened in your life.

LOURY: Yes, there were. I was younger than my classmates in high school. I was 12 years old when I started as a freshman in high school, because I’d gotten double promotions.

I was a bright, precocious kid. And slight of stature, and brainy and extrovert, I was voted the most talkative in my high school graduating class, with reason. Because I was always, I was the jokester. I was the cut-up kid in the back of the classroom making jokes when the teacher wanted people to pay attention.

Because I had whizzed it, and was bored and whatever. But I wasn’t fulfilled in terms of my longing for romantic adventure, for sexual exploration, I had a lot of inspiration in my longing for sexual exploration from my mother’s brothers, who were notorious womanizers.

And that was a part of the family lore. And as a young, maturing male adolescent coming through puberty. That did color my own longings and what it was I thought I needed to do in order to fulfill myself. And so I ended up in trouble. I tell in the book about getting arrested in a stolen car because I had a girlfriend.

I was taking her to her senior prom. She was one year behind me in high school. I had just graduated the year before. And I wanted to have my own car to take her out in so that we could neck, and we called it necking. We called it necking.

CHAKRABARTI: (LAUGHS)

LOURY: (LAUGHS) In the back seat after the dance. So there was this vehicle on a repair parking lot, which you could actually start the ignition without the key. I discovered, and I drove it off. I hid it so that I could use it to take her to her prom. So I could neck with her in the backseat afterwards. This is all a long story to make the point that I ended up getting arrested before I can pick her up, driving a stolen vehicle.

My father has to come and bail me out of prison. I stand her up on her prom night in a tuxedo at the police station. And all of this because I wanted to romance her in the backseat of some car, it was crazy. It was absolutely nuts, but indicative of the as-yet unfulfilled romantic longings that animated the young character, Glenn Loury, when he was 17 years old.

CHAKRABARTI: We’ll talk about how those animations played out later in your life in a little bit. You wrote about them in the book, professor. They’re already out there in the public. But so let me ask you, it’s interesting to me, because you write about how it’s really just a common habit to romanticize one’s own younger years, or to have a bias towards the positive aspects of it.

And you say it’s the kind of story that you tell yourself when you indulge in a little nostalgia. You reminisce about the good times, which I hear you doing now, too. But you also say that it’s not as if your life wasn’t touched by violence, for example, that a friend, a father of a friend of yours who was suffering from mental illness, shot and killed himself in the house in front of your mother.

And then you also had a teammate, a baseball teammate who died from a heroin overdose when he was just 18. In that sense, it still sounds like the kind of, at least the edges of, it sounds like a familiar upbringing or childhood that some kids in Chicago’s South Side are still experiencing.

LOURY: Yeah, I think you have your finger on something important there, Meghna. There was a dark side, and I do put it this way in the book. I say, yeah, Park Manor, that was the name of the neighborhood that my auntie and Uncle Mooney’s house sat in when I was a kid growing up. And it was a nice neighborhood but there were, there was some stuff going on around the edges that wasn’t so pretty.

Yeah. Paul, the shortstop on my Little League team lived just like three or four doors down the street from me. And he did die at the age of 18 from a heroin overdose. And Stevie, a brilliant athlete. He ran like the wind, died of a gunshot wound. Some of his buddies were playing with a gun. It went off, he got shot in the gut and they ran off and left him to bleed out in his mother’s basement.

And this happened, on the same block that those fruit trees in the backyards and those bicycles on the front lawn. And was it a indicator or a harbinger of something in the culture, I say this with trepidation, but I say it nonetheless. Something going on in Black American life, even at the striving middle class cutting edge, that wasn’t entirely healthy.

And I think, I wouldn’t blame a historian for coming to that conclusion.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. So we’re trying to build, I don’t want to say we’re building a box to put you in, but we’re trying to build, put together the pieces of the puzzle that make Glenn Loury. So here, you also talk about, again, in your sort of pre academic career, that, by the age of 19, you were the father to two young children, right?

And then, and because of that, that made, that forced some pretty substantial changes in your life, such as having to go to community college and also getting some work in order to help sustain the family that you had. Can you talk about that?

LOURY: Yeah, I was a young father.

Charlene, my girlfriend and then my wife, later after Lisa and Tammy came along, we married. We did eventually marry. She was 15 when she became pregnant with Lisa. She was my first love, I tell in the book about going by her house after working a shift at the Burger King, the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. And I’d get off and knock on her bedroom window and we would commiserate, and one thing led to another.

So that was a part of the expressing my longings for intimate contact with the opposite sex, that ended up in my immaturity. And where are the condoms? A person might ask, but they weren’t on display in that instance.

We ended up with two kids. I was 18 in June of, I’m sorry, I was 19 in June of 1968 when Tamara was born. Our second, and yeah, I was a young father. I had to drop out of college, and I had to go to work. And I went to work at a printing plant. Ultimately, I went back to taking courses in community college in the evenings.

But I was a very young father. Yeah.

CHAKRABARTI: Tell me about the work in the printing plant.

LOURY: The first thing that comes to mind is it was a boom economy. I dropped out of, I was an undergraduate at the Illinois Institute of Technology, taking an engineering curriculum, but I wasn’t doing that well in class. And besides, now I’m a young father and I’ve got to go to work.

It was easy to find a job, a good job. The RR Donnelly and Sons mega printing complex with a dozen buildings along the south of the loop shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Lakeside Press. They called it. This complex of printing, printed magazines and telephone books and Sears catalogs and everything in between.

And it was a three shift, 24 hour a day, seven day a week enterprise. Thousands of people pouring in and out of there. I was a clerk on the factory floor. It was noisy. It was dirty. It was gritty. Working class Skilled craftsmen and laborers intermingling, all manner of ethnicity in Chicago in the 1960s.

And I was able to make the equivalent of $55,000 or $60,000 a year in today’s dollars as a college dropout clerk timekeeper, record keeper, bonus estimator, doing a little bit of arithmetic, but nothing complex. And to get another exposure to life, to a set, a segment of the society that I might not otherwise have come into. The ethnic Irish and Italian and Jewish and Greek and Polish workers who were the main source of labor to coming into that plant.

And the Blacks, who unfortunately were not as well represented amongst the skilled craftsmen, I tell of one of my buddies who was a young man named Ed Faulkner, who had managed to get himself into the union and get himself, a Black guy. But there were very few of them. But it was my introduction to working life.

This was happening in the 1960s at the time of the anti-war protest and the height of the Black Power movement and so on. Politics was in the air, but working those shifts and hoping for overtime and trying to put a couple of dollars together to take care of my family was my main concern.

CHAKRABARTI: Did that time, though, and those experiences working with your colleagues at the printing press, did it shape your political views in an unexpected way? Because it’s a very, that’s a very different world than the one you stepped into not long after that, as you mentioned earlier, going to Northwestern, going to a really elite university where the folks who were surrounded by there were quite different.

LOURY: It did. It did. I tell in the book of a one night in 1968, when the Democratic National Convention was ongoing. And when there was all of the upheaval, I was working the midnight shift night, my lunch hour was like from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.

And I jumped in my car and drove the couple of three miles north from the printing plant, down to the park where the hippies were assembled and whatnot. And I was like a tourist. I didn’t feel myself a part of that milieu. I thought of myself as one of those guys who has to come with his lunch pail, punch in 20 minutes before the shift starts, get changed into his overalls, get out there on the floor.

His hands are dirty. There’s dirt under his fingernails. He’s hoping to get overtime this week. And he’s barely able to make ends meet, and he’s not burning his draft card. I don’t care what you say. And these women running around, tearing their bras off and declaring themselves to be liberated. He’s raising his eyebrow and saying, that’s not what my mother or what my mind, I was closer to those guys than I was to the hippies. Of course, being Black and from the South side I looked at the white working-class world, somewhat with a jaundiced eye, but I was one of them.

More so than I would have been one of the kids in the park smoking weed and demanding that Hubert Humphrey step down as nominee for the Democratic Party.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. You talk about how yeah, especially the Black radicals that you saw at Northwestern. That you got a sense, you got a sense that they never actually had a hard life.

And I may not be being fair to them. This was me carrying a chip on my shoulder, when I was this kid who did have a wife and two kids at home. And who did have an eight-hour job, five days a week that he had to go to, but who was also commuting up to Northwestern University’s campus and taking a full load of courses and acing them, so I had a Matt Damon sized, I’m talking about Goodwill Hunting, chip on my shoulder. I had a chip on my shoulder. I was from a community college. I was a transfer student. I was brilliant, if you’ll allow me to say so, getting A’s in all these hard courses in math and economics and whatnot. And life was not a walk in the park for me.

Nothing was handed to me on a silver platter. There was no spoon that was nurturing me. I was doing it pretty much, I thought in those years, my own.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: So Professor Loury, I want to ask you about, you mentioned you had this mighty chip on your shoulder while at Northwestern.

And I wonder if, what do you think of this? Is it possibly that same chip on your shoulder that some people might look at and say, this is what’s preventing him or what has prevented him from seeing really the underlying systemic issues of racism in this country? That for those Black elite that you were classmates with at Northwestern, you saw them in a negative light, but in truth, that prevented you from seeing that their lives were hard just by virtue of them being Black, in the 1960s and ’70s in America.

LOURY: Okay, Meghna.

CHAKRABARTI: Bring it on. I’m ready.

LOURY: No, there may be something to it. The chip on my shoulder, the resentment of the elite and more prosperous within the African American community in part for thinking that they think that they’re better than me. In part, for me thinking that my struggle has been somehow more weighty and whatnot than their own.

They had things handed to them that I had to work for and so on. And then in this class resentment, coming to underestimate the weight of the racial aspect. I don’t know that I’m agreeing, but I can see that a person might make that argument. And I have to, I think if I’m being honest with myself a lot, that there’s, you know, more than a grain of truth to it, but I don’t think it’s the whole story.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah, so just to be clear, I’m not taking a position on this at all. I’m just trying, I’m probing. Because, again, I can’t stop thinking of the really vitriolic criticism that you’ve received ever since, as you said, coming out as a conservative, a social conservative in this country, a Black social conservative.

And part of me wonders if it’s almost like disbelief. That other Black thinkers have when they consider some of the positions that you’ve advocated. And perhaps they’re trying to understand that disbelief by saying this, class issues you’re mentioning blinds you to racial issues.

I don’t know. I’m not saying I think that’s true or not, but it gets back to this question of you weren’t, you’re not towing the line. You’re not towing the intellectual line when it comes to the the Black advocacy or Black elite in this country. And that’s cost, that has cost you and I’m wondering if you see like their confusion about you, as well.

LOURY: I do. Because I think they’re wrong, and I want to say this, while we’re psychoanalyzing Glenn Loury here, and you know, I invite that, I did write a memoir. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this structural racism, reparations grounded argument, attribution of everything that is failing in African American life to an external source is wrong, in my opinion.

Demonstrably wrong. We’re in the 21st century, not the 19th century. Slavery is a long time ago. The issues are development. Not bias. The main challenges confronting African Americans, in my humble opinion, I think is objectively, demonstrably the case, is nurturing our families, educating our children, comporting ourselves in a manner consistent with a decent civic life and so on.

The violence, the crime, the school failure, the family dissolution. These things are not good. They’re not healthy. They are not a sign of success, and they are not the fault of white people. I think I’m right about that. So I simply don’t want that point to be obscured by the fact that I’m complex, that I have my own psychological issues. And that yes, to some degree, my reaction to their reaction to what it is that I have to say, is motivated by insecurities or social status anxiety or whatever, that could well be true.

Doesn’t change the fact that I’m right. And they’re wrong about the large existential, historical challenges confronting African Americans.

CHAKRABARTI: I’m going to continue the psychoanalysis for just another second here, professor, because it’s so clear in the book, you write it explicitly. That your academic ascent and being the smartest kid and the smartest person in the room, gave you this profound feeling of intellectual power. But it’s more than that.

You write about how it gave you a sense of freedom. I think that’s a really interesting word to use, right? Because obviously, questions of freedom for Black Americans have been central for a couple of centuries now. Do you think maybe that you have a different opinion about what freedom entails?

Because so much of it for you is focused on that intellectual freedom, than some of your critics do?

LOURY: I don’t know. Something to ponder. It is true that when I moved from my relatively cloistered life on the South side of Chicago as a young adult, I was 18, 19, 20. It was 1970, I was 21 when I started studying at Northwestern as a transfer student, into the rarified environs of an elite, exquisitely selective and academically excellent environment. It was a breath of fresh air to me. It was like discovering an entire new world.

I started reading history, philosophy, political theory, the German language and literature, mathematics, real mathematics in terms of serious, rigorous axiomatic foundations of mathematics, economics at a high level by Nobel, future Nobel laureates, who are my teachers, as I was an undergraduate at Northwestern. It completely changed my life. It opened up an entirely new world for me. It was enormously empowering. I was suddenly not just a Black kid from the South side of Chicago. I was suddenly somebody who was commiserating with, I don’t know, the Jean Paul Sartre’s of the world or the mathematical geniuses of the John von Neumann’s of the world and things like that.

And yes, that was empowering. I don’t think I’m necessarily answering you in terms of my politics, but a sense of liberation, of exposure to a much, much larger world. And a sense of being at the beginning of something grand, of something truly monumental in terms of intellectual exploration.

CHAKRABARTI: I suppose we don’t have time for this, but what I was thinking about is, are the subtle differences, or the differences between individual freedom in the American context and racial freedom? And does having to achieve, let’s say, racial freedom in the minds of many, does that involve maybe needing to sacrifice a little bit of the individual freedom, in terms of freedom of point of view or thought. One of these days, I’ll get you back on the show, Professor Loury, and we’ll talk about that. But I want to explore a couple of other stories that you present in the book. Because you said earlier that, just a few minutes ago, you said, just because your views on what’s really plaguing the Black community may not be, just because they’re not necessarily popular views, it doesn’t mean that you’re wrong. That you’re right.

Now, you tell a story in the book about when you talked about some of your criticisms of the Civil Rights Movement with a group of leaders. And in that group, Coretta Scott King was in that group, and she had a very strong reaction. You noticed tears in her eyes. Why? And what were you thinking at that moment?

LOURY: Yeah, it was a very poignant moment and experience for me. The year was 1984. This is just before the reelection in a landslide of Ronald Reagan to his second term. And I had just begun in 1982 in the autumn as a professor at Harvard. So I was early in my tenure there and was beginning what would become a more full-throated argument, critical of Civil Rights establishment doctrine about the race question, to which I’ve already given some reference.

And my mentor, Phyllis Wallace, the late Phyllis Wallace, an African American woman who was economics professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and whom I had befriended when I was a student, was aware of some of my writings on the political questions and thought it would be a very good idea if I were to be able to share my thoughts and listen carefully to the reactions of some of the leaders of the Civil Rights community.

And there happened that their coalition was convening, and she got me on the agenda. And so I went, and I gave a little spiel. And I was reacted, they reacted very strongly and critically, but Coretta King was among the high-level leaders of the Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People, the Civil Rights Coalition.

She was among them, and her silent commentary on my lecture was the tears rolling down her face. And at that moment, I wondered what could I have said that would bring this woman to tears? On the other hand, I also had to acknowledge, here is the widow of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Not so long ago, martyred as a hero for his people and his country. He is carrying all the symbolic weight that she does. And what I’m saying to her, which I, again, have already given voice to. Civil Rights Movement is over. That was my signature line. The Civil Rights Movement is over.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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