White supremacy, within living memory, was once a central plank of the progressive platform. While this might be a little hard to believe now, it’s important to understand the context of the white supremacist ideology as it developed after the Civil War.
The Rockefeller fortune in particular was instrumental to the founding of the historically black colleges — along with some of the other moguls of the gilded age. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African-Americans were almost entirely confined to the Southern regions of the United States. There was no ‘national’ race problems, although there were countless controversies over European immigration throughout the country going back at least to the first Adams administration.
Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta Compromise speech from 1895 best expresses this proto-progressive racial program. The idea was never really to break down segregation. Educating African-Americans, particularly in technical fields, was intended to create a separate Black leadership class, rather than necessarily to displace lower class Whites, which would have been politically unfeasible during that time period.
None of the figures from the time period believed that it would be possible, through education, to equalize Blacks and Whites in terms of their capacities and inclinations. The importance of genetics in determining a person’s capabilities as a worker or manager was widely understood at the time. Rather than a case of the general scientific understanding improving over time, our general understanding of human biological differences has depleted over time.
The early progressive approach was to adapt institutions to local conditions and the different characteristics of Blacks. Fortunes were spent on achievable goals, rather than radical attempts to defy rational possibility.
This developed into a hope that domestic migration could replace politically contentious foreign immigration in terms of satisfying Northern industrial demand for labor. Whereas the South had had a long experience of what postmodern leaders call ‘managing diversity,’ Northern cities — like Detroit — didn’t. The Great Migration was driven by business interests looking to fill the gap left behind by sharply curtailed foreign immigration.
The ‘Civil Rights movement’ was in part a reaction to the mix-ups related to the hopes of the early progressives. Uplift of the Black population was taken as a part of a raft of programs, like the elimination of hookworm from the South. The idea was to make Black labor more productive, to encourage peace between the races, and to promote the ‘separate but equal’ legal doctrine, even leading into the years of urban riots and Federal agitation which followed.
‘Separate but equal’ was an unprincipled exception that was eventually used as an agitator’s cudgel to break down the piecemeal segregation efforts put into place in Northern states like covenants and extensive workplace testing. Eventually, the Great Society managed to more or less permanently destroy the attempt to uplift African-Americans into a modern proletarian class suited for regimented factory labor.
The Black migration was largely opposed by labor unions — as part of the left’s abandonment of labor in the middle of the century, it shifted to race-and-gender agitation as a means of capturing political authority. Ensuring endless conflicts which can never be resolved, but can only be managed by bureaucracy, has been a wonderfully effective method for the professional left. In the name of healing divisions, they create permanent divisions which can be pushed down on at any moment in time to force a response and gin up new funds, whether from the state or from private donors.
The mass migrants from Latin America and Asia have almost entirely taken their place in the minds of modern managerial thinkers. Even wealthy modern pretenders to the Rockefeller-Carnegie legacy, while occasionally throwing millions at Newark school districts in an impotent fit of ketman-charity, have no coherent program whatsoever as it relates to really doing what’s right for relations between races which have been observed to be socially incompatible for thousands of years of human experience.
So, why did progressives make this about-face?
Universal suffrage has a political logic and momentum to it. Even if people only believe in equality in the abstract, it can be used as a political lever to agitate for certain interests in return for votes. If you can convince African-Americans that they’ve been taken advantage of by a brutal system of oppression, then there’s a good chance you can get them to vote for you. If you can bribe them en masse with make-work jobs, special legal privileges in the workplace, and welfare checks, then you can get them to turn out to vote for you consistently.
Progressives have also typically followed the lead of big business. Essentially progressives have usually acted as political brokers between large business interests and labor agitators, working to quell the latter on behalf of their supporters.
When it became impossible to discriminate between employees in a way that generated disparate impact, the state mostly solved the problem of enterprise being forced to hire unqualified applicants by just putting those people on the welfare rolls or in unremarkable jobs — and then preventing anyone from discriminating against the new mass migrants imported mostly from Latin America and Asia.
Despite this derailing of the progressive program in a tangled crash of political conflict, the general idea behind it was sound — different rules for different people, a charitable, diplomatic attitude between races, and a willingness to compromise with existing demographics and political reality. It also shows some of the danger in putting trust in even the most well-intentioned of technocratic and bureaucratic programs.
The law of unintended consequences turned an attempt to make White supremacy into a permanent institutional fixture in American life while reducing reliance on foreign immigration evolved into a political movement to displace Whites from their own country and maximize foreign immigration almost irrespective of the quality of the migrants in question.