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Walter E. Williams
*Walter E. Williams was born on this date in 1936. He was a Black conservative economist, commentator, and academic.
Walter Edward Williams was born in Philadelphia, PA. His family during childhood consisted of his mother, his sister, and him; Williams's father played no role in raising Williams or his sister. The family initially lived in West Philadelphia, moving to North Philadelphia and the Richard Allen housing projects when Williams was ten. His neighbors included a young Bill Cosby. Williams knew many individuals Cosby speaks of from childhood, including Weird Harold and Fat Albert.
After graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School, Williams traveled to California to live with his father and attend Los Angeles City College for one semester. He later returned to Philadelphia and worked as a cab driver. In 1959, he was drafted into the military and served in the United States Army. While stationed in the South, Williams "waged a one-man battle against Jim Crow from inside the army." He challenged the racial order with provocative statements to his fellow soldiers. This resulted in an overseeing officer filing a court-martial proceeding against Williams. Williams argued his case and was found not guilty.
While considering filing countercharges against the officer who had brought him up for court-martial, Williams found himself transferred to Korea. Upon arriving there, Williams marked "Caucasian" for the race on his personnel form. When challenged on this, Williams replied wryly that if he had marked "Black," he would get all the worst jobs. From Korea, Williams wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy denouncing the pervasive racism in the American government and military and questioning the actions black Americans should take given the situation, writing: Should Negroes be relieved of their service obligation or continue defending and dying for empty promises of freedom and equality? Or should we demand human rights as our Founding Fathers did at the risk of being called extremists? I contend that we relieve ourselves of oppression in a manner that is in keeping with the great heritage of our nation.
Following his military service, Williams also resumed his education, earning a bachelor's degree in economics in 1965 from California State College in Los Angeles (now Cal State Los Angeles). He earned his master's degree and his Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Williams's doctoral thesis was titled The Low-Income Market Place.
Williams said of his early college days: "I was more than anything a radical. I was more sympathetic to Malcolm X than Martin Luther King because Malcolm X was more of a radical who was willing to confront discrimination in ways that I thought should be confronted, including perhaps the use of violence. But I just wanted to be left alone. I thought some laws, like minimum-wage laws, helped poor people and poor black people and protected workers from exploitation. I thought they were a good thing until I was pressed by professors to look at the evidence."
During his time at UCLA, Williams met economists such as Thomas Sowell, Armen Alchian, James M. Buchanan, and Axel Leijonhufvud, who challenged his assumptions. Williams was an instructor in economics at Los Angeles City College from 1967 to 1969 and at Cal State Los Angeles from 1967 to 1971. After returning to his native Philadelphia, Williams taught economics at Temple University and was a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
In 1980, Williams joined the economics faculty at George Mason University. That same year, Williams began writing a syndicated column, "A Minority View," for Heritage Features Syndicate. Williams continued to teach at George Mason until his death. He wrote ten books, beginning in 1982 with The State Against Blacks and America: A Minority Viewpoint. Economic and political views. As an economist, Williams was a proponent of free-market economics and opposed socialist systems of government intervention. Williams believed laissez-faire capitalism was the most moral, productive system humans have ever devised. Williams was critical of state programs, including minimum wage and affirmative action laws, stating both practices inhibit liberty and are detrimental to the blacks they are intended to help. He published his results in his 1982 book The State Against Blacks, arguing that laws regulating economic activity are far greater obstacles to economic progress for blacks than racial bigotry and discrimination.
Subsequently, Williams spoke on the topic and penned several articles detailing his view that increasing the minimum wage positions lower-skilled workers out of the market, eliminating their employment opportunities. Williams believed that racism and the legacy of slavery in the United States are overemphasized as problems faced by the black community today. He pointed to the crippling effects of a welfare state and the disintegration of the black family as more pressing concerns. "The welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn't do, which is to destroy the black family."
Although in favor of equal access to government institutions such as courthouses, city halls, and libraries, Williams opposed anti-discrimination laws directed at the private sector because such laws infringe upon the people's right to freedom of association. He maintained that the American states are entitled to secede from the union if they wish, as the Confederate states attempted to do during the American Civil War, and asserted that the Union's victory in the Civil War allowed the federal government "to run amok over states' rights, so much so that the protections of the Ninth and Tenth Amendments mean little or nothing today."
In his autobiography, Williams cited Frederick Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman as influences that led him to become a libertarian. He praised Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal as "one of the best defenses and explanations of capitalism one is likely to read." Aside from authoring his weekly columns, Williams was a frequent guest host for Rush Limbaugh's radio program when Limbaugh was away traveling. Personal life and death Williams lived in Devon, Pennsylvania, since 1973. He was married to Connie (née Taylor) from 1960 until she died in 2007. They had one daughter, Devyn.
When he began teaching at George Mason, he rented a cheap hotel room in Fairfax, Virginia, where he lived from Tuesdays through Thursdays around his teaching schedule. Williams was a cousin of former NBA player Julius Erving. He served on the board of directors of Media General, the parent company of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, from 2001 until he retired from the board in 2011. He was also chairman of the company's audit committee. Walter Williams died in his car on December 1, 2020, at age 84, shortly after teaching a class at George Mason University. His daughter said that he suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and hypertension.