Harper’s Magazine online interviews David Beito

David Beito, co author of the new book Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power, was interviewed by Scott Horton for Harper’s online.

Q. “You call Howard a ‘maverick,’ and his politics do seem all over the place. He launches his political career working on the California gubernatorial campaign of Upton Sinclair, a self-described socialist, then he turns to a posture of constructive engagement as a Democrat, after which he becomes an Eisenhower Republican, and runs as a Republican nominee for Congress in 1958, getting trounced in a bad year for Republicans. Did he have a consistent political philosophy, or was he more of a political opportunist?”

A. “One reason why Howard qualifies as a maverick was that he never thought in terms of rigid ideologies. Unlike some black leaders of the period, he was generally suspicious of utopian or leftist schemes and put his trust in self-help, the work ethic, and entrepreneurship. In this respect, his support of the socialist Sinclair was an exception. Even then, his stated justification had less do with Sinclair’s socialism and more to do with, in Howard’s words, Sinclair’s promise to give blacks a ‘fair shake.’ Personal opportunism was probably a factor. Sinclair noticed and appreciated Howard’s talents and wanted to entrust him with an important role in a potentially winning campaign.”

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