These are difficult times, and Americans are looking for guidance on how to make sense of the most divisive issues we face. When it comes to race in America, Heritage President Kay C. James says that conservatives should be leading the civil rights movement.
That’s why The Daily Signal reached out to African American conservatives to ask why they are conservative. Here are their responses.
1. W.B. Allen: Good Sense Needs No Explanation
My political conservatism is an effect or consequence, not a cause.
I am an American patriot, informed by a deep appreciation of the human significance of the advance in human affairs occasioned by the founding of the United States. For the first time in human history, the idea that mankind in general was capable of self-government had been realized.
Moreover, the fulfillment of the promises attending that realization have been made manifest in the consistent progress of civilization in the United States, in which the power of the individual and the value of self-agency, informed by the security of religious conviction, have steadily reinforced real material progress and the opportunity for moral progress.
For those reasons, it is a matter of prudent judgment that one’s political exertions should ever be careful to reinforce and not to undermine the foundations of the hopes invested in the political constitution of this nation.
The United States was formed as a lamp unto the world, and whatever undermines the power of the United States to perform that role constitutes an impediment to human happiness.
If it is conservative to wish to preserve the “last best hope of man” on earth, then such conservatism is the effect of devotion to liberty. No one could do otherwise, if guided by good sense and a due appreciation of the values of faith, freedom, and responsibility.
W. B. Allen, Ph.D., is the chief operating officer of UrbanCURE.
2. Brian Bledsoe: Most Fair for All
As a conservative who happens to be Black, I’m typically asked why I am a conservative. So here’s why.
I’m a conservative because the most innocent among us should be given the chance to live.
I’m a conservative because you shouldn’t be punished for being successful.
I’m a conservative because securing our borders against those who seek to come here illegally should be as commonsensical as securing our residences.
I’m a conservative because we need to defend the Second Amendment more than ever from the constant and vicious attack on our right to bear arms.
I’m a conservative because speech should be free whether I agree with it or not.
I’m a conservative because I stand against the deceptive allure of an all-controlling government by way of socialism, which threatens everything that made this country great.
I’m a conservative because we should remain forever vigilant in advocating limited government.
Leftists will argue that being conservative goes against what they perceive is in my self-interest. I’m a conservative because the principles of conservatism are the most effective, realistic, and fair for all—regardless of individual outcome.
Brian Bledsoe is a Heritage Action Sentinel from Texas.
3. The Rev. Arnold M. Culbreath: Not Sellouts, but Solutions
We are living in turbulent times. Racial tensions run high, and intensified feelings, conversations, shouts, and pressure reverberate across the land. And in the midst of all this, a wide variety of perspectives abound.
Being Black in America is not easy. However, I remain hopeful and work to make America better every day. As a pastor, Army veteran, business owner, and national ministry leader, I strive to model what being a Christian, socially conscientious, Black man in America looks like, while frequently facing racism and exclusion in the process.
In spite of the odds, I have labored long and participated in initiatives that help hopeless and hurting people, and programming that moves past rhetoric to get real resources to people in need. Things like after-school feeding programs, grocery giveaways, the First Step Act, opportunity zones, free help to women in crisis pregnancies, and more.
These principles need not be defined or confined by polarizing labels such as left or right, conservative or liberal. The question is: Does an initiative strengthen and lift impoverished and disenfranchised people and communities that need it most?
If so, collaboration is desperately needed to serve those ravished by a pandemic, shaken by injustices such as the brutal killing of George Floyd and many others at the hands of police, racial upheaval, and socio-economic disparities, and we need it now.
In order for this to occur, name-calling and marginalizing of viewpoints must stop. It’s much more helpful to stop viewing me and others like me as “Uncle Toms,” but as fellow team members. Not as sellouts, but as solutions to the problems.
This is our country, and our world, so let’s work to make it the absolute best that we can together.
The Rev. Arnold M. Culbreath is the director of ministry engagement at the Douglass Leadership Institute.
4. Michael E. Kerridge: Reasonable Human Imperative
If anyone is willing to step away from the noise and cacophonic discourse that now compromise political discussion, we can begin to see that conservatism is not just an opposing or competing ideology. It is a human imperative wrought in the will and psyche of every reasonable person.
I am a conservative because personal initiative favors personal economic freedom. I oppose excessive government control of business and the subversion of the traditional family structure. I fully endorse and favor a free-market economy and the rule of law.
The values inherent in the individualism of my grandmother that spawned four generations of conservative thought and action embodied the sentiment that “all are created equal,” and that government does not bestow anything on anyone.
The entrepreneurship, individual effort, and hard work that made all of my grandmother’s efforts and her life rich and full have influenced and spawned generational success. This makes me a “reasonable man,” a reasonable person.
The family is a microcosm of what works best for all of mankind. We realize that God created us male and female, that we are to train up our children and equip them with self-confidence, discipline, and respect for all that is good and right.
This fortifies our society with reasonable people who think critically about their impact and legacy for their families, their fellow citizens, and their society.
Only this actually works for all concerned.
Michael E. Kerridge is a Heritage Action Sentinel from Florida.
5. Liz Matory: From Liberal to Liberated
My greatest desire is for more Americans to remember their conservative roots. Five years ago, I feared conservatives. I thought they were “the bad guys” and that “they” didn’t care about Black people.
Like so many Washingtonians and women of color, I was a liberal by default and never questioned being one. I just knew that I wasn’t supposed to be a conservative.
I became an independent voter in 2015. I had become extremely disenchanted and disheartened with the status quo. If anything, I was desperate to find solutions that would really make a difference.
It was only then when I had the guts to read Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative” and Arthur Brooks’ “The Conservative Heart.” Through all of my schooling and political activism, I admit I never really knew what conservatives believed. I only knew they were the “enemy.”
If you had told me just five years ago that I would be a conservative, like a Bible, pro-life, and guns conservative, I would not have believed you. But I am. A very proud one.
Everything makes sense now, especially when it comes to the issues that still face “Black America.” We are actually conservatives, and have been since the beginning. It is as if our heritage was purposefully obscured to ensure we would not advance. We need only to flip the switch to see the light.
Faith. Family. Freedoms. Free enterprise. There is no color to it. Just truth.
Liz Matory is the author of “Born Again Republican” and “Becoming Born Again.”
6. Lenny McAllister: Advancing Freedom for All
As America has taught the world over our modern history, the power of free markets and conservative principles has broken down systems of oppression from Montgomery to Mumbai.
These principles have lifted many in Latin America and Asia out of poverty. They forced integration of public facilities through boycotts. They continue to push for life-enhancing innovations in technology, education, and retail.
A lifestyle that allows one to embrace one’s potential, explore one’s destiny, and self-determine one’s successes is a lifestyle that extols the American Dream.
With our conservative principles, we grasp both the legality and sentiment of the Constitution, the founding vision for our nation, and the power of perseverance in America.
Visionary conservatives leading within modern America take the best of our foundation and apply contemporary lessons of courage and tact to pursue a more perfect union.
We leverage time-tested convictions to weather social storms, populist ramblings, and economic hardships.
We put feelings aside at a time when emotions are high, yet values must prevail.
We value God-given rights for Americans of all backgrounds, defending a Constitution that protects these timeless gifts.
Why am I a conservative? Why should conservatives lead the civil rights movement? Because only through the fulfilled promise of constitutional conservatism will America entrench itself as the beacon of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity that truly lifts character over color, results over race, and justice over prejudice.
I, like many Americans before me, pursue the fulfillment of that promise in my daily walk.
Lenny McAllister is director of Western Pennsylvania for Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.
7. Emery McClendon: Working for Everyone
For years we have heard it over and over that Blacks are loyal to the Democratic Party. The Democrats believe that Blacks blindly follow their party’s principles because of a “herd mentality,” and refuse to change or consider voting for Republican or conservative principles.
Democrats believe this even though many Blacks find themselves out of sync with many of the policies of the Democratic Party platform.
Recently, for good reasons, Blacks have begun to depart from the party and embrace conservatism. I am proud to be among those that have made that choice.
There are many reasons to embrace conservatism. Perhaps one of the chief reasons for making this choice is that one may embrace and pursue his or her own destiny and develop a sense of pride in individual accomplishment. This is a very important aspect if one values his or her sense of personal responsibility and seeks prosperity.
Conservatism allows an individual to excel beyond the dependency and imposed reliance forced upon him by the government, and gives one the desire to work toward greater life goals.
Conservatism, unlike Democratic ideology, brings one to a point of satisfaction for the accomplishments of life, and creates a deep desire to work harder, not unambitiously.
I choose to determine my own destiny and to illustrate to my posterity sound economic and life principles that will help them become successful in life, and not become wards of the state.
In short, conservatism works for everyone.
Emery McClendon is a Heritage Action Sentinel from Indiana.
8. Charlotte D. McGuire: Against All Odds
How did I become the vice president of the Ohio Board of Education? It was totally unexpected. I am not an educator by profession or experience.
But, over 100,000 citizens in a five-county territory elected me as their representative. Then, by surprise, a board colleague nominated me for the office of vice president and I won by one vote.
This honor caused me to pause and reflect on where I came from and why I do what I do. I am a conservative by choice. Conservatism’s principles of life, freedom, faith, family, personal responsibility, limited government, and free markets all aligned with my biblical worldview and values, and, therefore my actions.
I was raised in the segregated South during the Jim Crow era. Racism was alive, well, and “in your face.”
But, against all odds, I overcame the obstacles of racism and discrimination that I faced.
My parents were key. They encouraged me and told me that hard work and dedication would pay off. My dad said, “If you’re going to be a ditch digger, be the best ditch digger there is.” My mom told me that when I faced racists, “kill them with kindness.”
Against all odds, my dad worked two jobs so his five children would have an opportunity to go to college. My dad and mom believed that education was key to our freedom and independence. They didn’t want us to depend on the government.
In Memphis, Tennessee, I was the colored girl who could only go to the zoo on Tuesday. Or, if I wanted go see a movie at the Malco Theatre, I had to use the side entrance, climb what seemed like a million steps, and sit in the balcony.
My race designation evolved to Negro and I participated in the 1968 protest to support garbage collectors’ job rights. With my parents’ approval, and as a high school senior in a segregated educational system, I waited in downtown Memphis at a rally to hear civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. He was the hope of the ages for Black Americans who wanted equal opportunities to succeed.
Dr. King never showed up. He was assassinated, and rioting broke out in downtown Memphis and around the country.
My senior class trip to Washington, D.C., was cancelled. A couple of months later, I graduated from the same school as my parents, Booker T. Washington High School.
Being the first person in my family to go to college during this turbulent time, I was sent north to attend Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. There, I had family members to assure my safety and support me.
My conservative values caused me to pray and persevere against all odds. I believe all my rights come from God. I believe in the self-evidentiary clause that I am created equal among a diverse humanity.
I believe that I have the right to life and liberty, and to pursue happiness. I believe I have the innate right to become who I was providentially purposed to be. To our Creator be all the glory.
Against all odds, I finished Central State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration during a time of protests, from 1968 to 1973. I completed a few University of Dayton graduate courses in public administration. I became a “voice” for the homeless, hungry, elderly, families, and children’s educational success.
Against all odds, as a conservative and a former municipal government and nonprofit executive, I am now vice president of the Ohio Board of Education.
Charlotte D. McGuire was a local government and nonprofit leader before being elected to the Ohio Board of Education.
9. The Rev. Dean Nelson: Best for All People
I am a conservative. I had a happy childhood growing up in rural Virginia, but I heard the N-word as a matter of course. There was a restaurant in our town that refused service to Blacks well into the 1980s.
My high school guidance counselor encouraged me to enlist in the military instead of applying to college. Some friends who cheered my admission to Howard raised their eyebrows when I transferred to the University of Virginia.
As an adult, I have—like most other Black men in America—been pulled over by cops for no reason, as has my almost 19-year-old son. A white woman allowed her dog to bite me while I was jogging on a public sidewalk in my own neighborhood because she said I got too close to her. My daughter was falsely accused of shoplifting at the age of 13. I could go on.
Being a conservative does not mean I deny the existence of racism—individual or systemic. I am a conservative because I want economic prosperity, limited government, and strong families for everyone.
I believe Black Americans deserve more autonomy over our own lives, not less, and I want to live in a society that protects Black people’s right to create the good life for ourselves rather than wait naively for a magical set of social services to rescue us.
I am not conservative despite my race. I am conservative because I believe conservative principles are best for my race, and for all people.
The Rev. Dean Nelson is chairman of the Douglass Leadership Institute.
10. Sophia A. Nelson: Courageous Conservatism
Our nation is hurting right now. Our nation needs a deep spiritual and soul healing right now.
For so long, the voices of Black conservatives have been questioned. Called “Uncle Tom.” Called “sellout.” Or worse.
I believe that the time for divisions among us as Black people is over. It is now time for us to unite in solidarity, not just in the fight for “Black lives” and their value, but in the fight for us to live out our nation’s earliest credo: e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
If we are to win this fight for the soul of America, conservatives no longer can run from that fight. I am a conservative because I believe in smaller, less government.
I believe in the wisdom and patriotism of “we the people,” not that of a centralized, overburdensome government.
I believe in religious liberty and freedom.
I believe in the rights of the people to peacefully assemble and to bear arms.
I believe that all men and women are created equal and endowed by our Creator with life, liberty, and the right to pursue happiness.
I am a conservative who loves her people deeply. It is time for Black conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike to work across ideological lines to help develop and guide our community to educational, economic, political, and social policies that will create sustained opportunity, access, ownership, and freedom in our day-to-day lives.
Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning author and freelance journalist and columnist.
11. Autry J. Pruitt: Maximum Protection
I abhor injustice, I am disgusted by inequality and those who would use their authority and power to break the backs of the innocent are repulsive to me.
No matter where one turns in their history book, one thing is consistent—too much government is half the source of all man’s problems (and a lack of faith, which usually is proceeded by big government, trails at a close second).
The evidence is clear: Massive protest, legitimate or not, never gathers against corporations or individuals—protest is always against government. This is because the evil that people or corporations perpetrate on others is always enabled, fostered, or protected by governments.
The sad fact is that now, with sovereigns all around the world harnessing more power, the only thing that seemingly can fight against big government is another government.
I am a conservative because conservatism equals maximum protection from the only institution that forces obedience through violence: government.
Autry J. Pruitt is CEO of New Journey PAC Inc.
12. C.J. Sailor: Essential to Thriving Communities
I remember going to vote for the first time at age 18 in Detroit, Michigan. I was full of vigor and hope until a friend of mine told me to vote for the Democratic ticket. I was bewildered and I asked him why. He said, “Because that’s the way all Black people vote.”
I had not yet registered my party affiliation, and like most teenagers growing up in the inner city, I knew only of liberal policies and social promises. I was determined to be different, so I told my friend that I would vote for someone who held the values and beliefs that my parents taught me.
After reading several pieces of campaign literature, I was unable to find a candidate who embraced local control, family values, and economic freedom. I was stuck with the independent candidate, who was a better choice than the candidate who stood for big government and less freedom.
Today, I’m a conservative because I believe my values of strong and healthy families, faith in God, and economic freedom are essential to thriving communities.
Now more than ever, these values can heal our nation of racial injustice and promote upward mobility. We must embrace the next generation of leaders and pass on the legacy of faith, hope, and American exceptionalism.
Clarence “C.J.” Sailor is a leader at an educational nonprofit.
13. Carol M. Swain: Hope and Encouragement
I am a conservative because I have tasted and spit out the depressing, self-defeating ideologies and fruits of progressive liberalism.
Long before I knew I was a conservative, I was acting upon and living my life by conservative principles.
Despite my poverty and lack as one of 12 children growing up in rural indigence, I still believed I could make good things happen, and that I was not destined to remain poor.
I married at 16, started a family, and eventually earned a high school equivalency after having dropped out of school after completing the eighth grade.
Next came a divorce and my entry into a community college, where I earned the first of five college and university degrees. A brief stint on welfare after my divorce convinced me of the need to get an education so I could get a “good” job.
It never occurred to me as I was studying, working, and raising my children that the world was stacked against me or that it owed me a better break because of my race, impoverished roots, female gender, or family status.
It would take graduate school and studies of oppression to reveal to me that people from my background were doomed to poverty because of oppression and systematic racism. Fortunately, I was successful and thriving before I heard these depressing messages.
My belief in the American Dream and its possibilities inspired me to study hard, make the dean’s list at the community college, and graduate from the four-year college magna cum laude while working 40 hours a week on nights and weekends at the community college where I earned my first degree.
I always have been a strong individualist who rejects groupthink and questions the behaviors and thought patterns of those around me. Today, I am a conservative because I believe in God, country, and nation.
As a Black child in the rural South, I knew I lived in the greatest country in the world, and I took pride in being a Virginian because my state was the home of presidents. Slavery, Jim Crow, racism, and other realities of the Black experience never defined or crippled me.
Conservatism offers hope and encouragement to those willing to avail themselves of opportunities.
Carol M. Swain, Ph.D., is a retired professor of political science and professor of law at Vanderbilt University and host of the “Be the People” podcast and radio show.
14. A.J. Swinson: Self-Sufficient, Entrepreneurial, Morally Strong
I am an African American millennial woman, and I’m a proud conservative.
I learned conservative principles from my parents, who grew up in poverty in Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. My parents’ political views changed when they became sold-out Christians.
They began to see that progressive values did not line up with the Bible they studied each day. They also understood the Democratic Party’s role in destabilizing the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Today, my parents are successful despite their meager beginnings. They raised their children to be self-sufficient, entrepreneurial, and morally strong.
These are the core principles of conservatism.
Years ago, Black people built Rosewoods and Black Wall Streets around the country, and were successful despite Jim Crow laws, white supremacy, and oppression. We had a higher marriage rate than other races and focused on business and education. We put our faith in God, not man, to sustain us.
Abraham Lincoln said, “What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried against the new and untried?”
It was a mistake to leave what worked for us in the past to fit into a progressive agenda that expects blind loyalty (or we “ain’t Black”) and fails to hold biblical principles in high regard.
I am a conservative because I want to go back to what has been proven to work for us, and it’s not socialism or a larger welfare state. It is faith in God, love for others, local investment and entrepreneurship, prioritizing education, and traditional values.
A.J. Swinson is director of development at New Journey PAC Inc.
15. Jimmy Tillman: Christian Values and Critical Thinking
The easy answer is because I am a God-fearing Christian, but I will share a more complex reason why the son of a civil rights icon and Democratic ward boss is a conservative.
I am an alumnus of Central State University, a historically Black university in Wilberforce, Ohio, a town that was the last stop on one of the Underground Railroad lines. It was here where I learned how to ask therightquestions and to think critically. I received my degree in history.
As a historian, reflecting on Juneteenth (an American holiday commemorating when the last slaves in Galveston, Texas, got word that the Union was saved and they were granted rights as Americans), I am reminded that it was through the spirit of Christian values that the abolition movement was founded.
I owe my citizenship to the brave men who fought and died in the Civil War. This includes many slaves, who afterward built viable communities throughout the South during Reconstruction.
These former slaves went on to send five conservative representatives to the Senate and House. A quick look at most of the historical gains by Blacks in America and the conservative movement is usually behind it.
Most recently, the Martin Luther King Republicans joined with the conservative group Reopen Illinois to campaign for the right to worship. This led to the governor’s lifting an unconstitutional ban on churches.
I currently host a hip-hop conservative talk show. It is a platform for other Black conservatives to discuss issues relating to our community. We are the silent majority.
Jimmy Tillman is a Heritage Action Sentinel from Illinois.
16. Terris E. Todd: Way of Life
The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, where I am executive director, was created to strengthen our nation by improving educational outcomes for African Americans of all ages. The mission includes helping ensure students are prepared for college and productive careers to contribute to the well-being of society.
Having worked on every level education throughout my professional career, it provided me the understanding that African American students and their families deserve an education that provides them with the options that best meet their individual needs and talents.
Previously, I have worked as director of education and children services, teacher, and administrator in K-12 public schools, as a collegiate-level instructor, and as director of 62nd District relations in the Michigan State House of Representatives.
I also have had the privilege and honor of being the Michigan Republican Party vice chair, in the inaugural class of the Citizenship Project, a county elected official, and actively involved on numerous boards and committees in my local community.
My conservative beliefs and values have always been a way of life for me. That belief system carries with me in everything that I do and in every job I have ever had.
The belief that God is supreme to all creation, that our freedoms are given by God and protected by government, are just a few conservative values that I long have embraced and will continue to share with those I come in contact with throughout my lifetime.
Terris E. Todd is executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
17. Deana Bass Williams: 3 True North Principles
Three fundamental beliefs make me a conservative. I believe in the value of the individual over the state. I value freedom of expression. I believe life is a gift from God and should be protected and celebrated.
These foundational principles governed my way of thinking long before I had heard the term conservative, and even longer still before I knew anything about the “conservative movement.”
In my life, the best solutions on how to respond to challenges all have come from my family, my church, and my immediate community, not from the government. My community, not the government, has done a better job of dismantling poverty, alleviating educational disparities, and improving health care outcomes.
In my life, solutions to depression and despair were found in the church and not by a government program.
While the left professes to promote tolerance, my experience bears out that their tolerance extends only to their ideas. As a professional communicator for almost three decades, I have grown to value a fundamental principle of conservatism, and that is the freedom of expression and the marketplace of ideas.
Of course, when conservatives say they value life, the immediate thought goes to the abortion debate. While protecting the unborn is critical, it is merely the foundation of the sanctity of life argument. Conservatism’s emphasis on life extends to supporting policies that empower and protect human life at every stage of development.
Yes, that means defunding killing machines such as Planned Parenthood, but it also means reforming a criminal justice system that shows bias against African Americans.
Deana Bass Williams is a partner at Bass Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.
18. Dee Dee Bass Wilbon: Founding Principles
I was in my early 20s working in a brand-new job after college when I was first asked, “Why are you a conservative?” The co-worker also felt the need to remind me that I was Black, which he believed made it even more egregious.
The first political campaign I worked on was in the mid-1980s for a Black woman running for city council in my hometown. She believed that human life began at conception. She believed in the free market giving everyone an opportunity to increase financially. She believed that you should be able to attend a school or get a job based on your ability and not because of the color of your skin.
I was 12 years old when I worked on that campaign. As a kid, conservative principles made perfect sense even if I had not yet heard the word conservative. They make perfect sense today as they align with what I have been taught as a Christian.
The answer to my colleague’s question was easy for me then as a young single woman, and remains easy for me almost 30 years later as a wife and mother of two.
I am a conservative because of Christian values. I love America. Our nation is an imperfect experiment in a democracy founded on Judeo-Christian values. I believe that as we move away from these founding principles, we move away from our destiny of being one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.
Dee Dee Bass Wilbon is a partner at Bass Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.
19. Daren Williams: Origins of Conservatism
Most if not all people assume that conservatism was born by way of Edmund Burke’s critique of the French Revolution in 1790, and the writing of others before him such as Richard Hooker, the Marquess of Halifax, and David Hume.
That is, the fundamental ideas and practices of conservatism are the legacy of old English white men. It is with this misconception and failed understanding of the world’s history that conservatism is scorned as a white man’s ideology, particularly by Black Americans.
The roots of conservatism did not grow from the minds or hands of white men or any other race of man. The core values of conservatism were first written by the hand of God on the tablets which Moses held as he descended Mount Sinai to give to the Children of Israel.
The Ten Commandments are the true origins of conservatism, passed down from generation to generation for millenniums. At times lost through stubbornness and pride, but always found in the humble pursuit of Truth.
These 10 fundamental laws are the infallible building blocks of conservatism and of a truly sustainable society, starting with the individual’s responsibility to God and then his love for his neighbors.
They enshrine and guarantee, if followed, a healthy, long-standing, and thriving individual, family, community, and nation of people.
And if ignored, the weakening, destruction, and demise of those entities, in that exact order.
Why I’m a Black conservative has absolutely nothing to do with the color of my skin. It has everything to do with the origin of conservatism, which is from the same hands of my origin: God.
Daren Williams is director of policy and endorsements at New Journey PAC Inc.
Editor’s note: Sophia A. Nelson’s title and headline have been modified since publication.