“The days of our years are three score and ten,
Or even by reason of strength fourscore years.”
Dr. Thomas Sowell, one of America’s most distinguished public scholars, celebrated four score and ten years on June 30, and what a remarkable journey, geographically, intellectually and spiritually, this former resident of Harlem has traveled.
Dr. Sowell was born in oppressive Jim Crow North Carolina in 1930, but his recently widowed mother could not rear a fifth child, so he was adopted by a great aunt.
Nine years later, mother and son fled north to Manhattan, where her two daughters had moved a few years earlier.
The “Great Migration” of Southern black Americans, which began during World War I, skyrocketed New York City’s black population from 92,000 in 1910 to 748,000 in 1950. In 1940, when Sowell was 10 years old, 298,000 of NYC’s black residents lived in Manhattan, the majority of then in Harlem in the northern part of the borough.
Between 1920 and the late 1950’s, Harlem was the unrivalled world center of black achievement, and prominent residents included: future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall; jazz band leader Count Basie; New York State Judge Eunice Carter; Billie Holiday; New York Giant Willie Mays; boxer Joe Louis; writers Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin; painter Charles Austin, and ballet soloist Arthur Mitchell. (Since the beginning of the 20th century, this legendary neighborhood also attracted hundreds of thousands of enterprising, successful Blacks from more than a dozen Caribbean countries, and in recent decades, from many African nations.)
Dr. Sowell attended, but did not graduate from the nationally-renowned Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan (my brother’s alma mater, ’66), and he served honorably in the Marines during the Korean War. Since opening in 1905, Stuyvesant graduated many distinguished STEM professionals, including: Drs. Joshua Lederberg and Richard Axel, Nobel laureates in Medicine; Roald Hoffmann, Nobelists in Chemistry; Otto Eckstein, a top economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson; physicist Lisa Randall; and noted mathematicians Paul Cohen, Peter Lax and Elizabeth Wilmer.
It is not surprising that, until his early 30s, Dr. Sowell was a neo-Marxist, as Stuyvesant High School has been for many decades the downtown AA farm team for the “Liberal Elite-Democratic Party” (“LE-DP.”) A few other prominent lefty alumni are: President Barack Obama’s adviser David Axelrod and Attorney General Eric Holder; NYC Congresspersons Jerry Nadler and Grace Meng; Dick Morris, the adviser to President Bill Clinton, and 21st century convert to neo-conservatism; Robert Parris Moses, the 1960s civil rights leader and creator of “The Algebra Project”;Watergate prosecutors Richard Ben-Veniste and Bernard Nussbaum; and Albert Shanker, head of the NYC teachers’ union (UFT) and the national union (AFT.)
Incidentally, the Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant’s arch-rival and my alma mater (’67), is the uptown AAA farm team of the “LE-DP,” and among its thousands of leftist luminaries are: Congresswoman Nita Lowey, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee; Dr. Harold Brown, President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of Defense; Dr. June Ellenoff O’Neill, head of the Congressional Budget Office during President Clinton’s second term, his Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann Lee; Harrison Goldin and John Liu, former NYC comptrollers; Michael Sovern, former president of Columbia University and Law School; Harold Bloom, the influential Yale literary critic; Madeline Singas, the current district attorney of Nassau County (just east of NYC); Joseph Lelyveld, the former executive editor of the New York Times; and Dr. Wanda Austin, who just served as the president of the University of Southern California.
Last month, Dr Sowell published his 56th book, “Charter Schools and Their Enemies,” which astutely champions the Success Academies charter schools, founded in 2005 by Stuyvesant alumna Dr. Eva Moskowitz. Between 1999 and 2005, Dr. Moskowitz was the Democratic representative on the NYC Council for Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side.
Eight decades later, this book is a homecoming for Dr. Sowell, as he entered a Harlem public school in 1939, and it was the academic excellence of the city’s public schools that set him on an academic path, not uncommon for Stuyvesant alumni, that had him earn degrees in economics from Harvard, Columbia and the University of Chicago.
Dr, Sowell should be the sixth Nobel laureate in Economics who attended a NYC public high school, and the others are: Robert Fogel, Stuyvesant; Kenneth Arrow, Townsend Harris High School; Robert Solow and Gary Becker, James Madison High School (my father’s alma mater, ’32); and Alvin Roth, Martin Van Buren High School.
In 2002, President George W. Bush awarded Dr. Sowell the National Humanities Medal, and Donald Trump should confer on him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. A true Renaissance man, Dr. Sowell has earned the honor in six categories: literature, economics, education, history, journalism and political activism.
Finally, one of Dr. Sowell’s underappreciated achievements is his pioneering status as an African-American conservative. When he abandoned Marxism in the 1960s, America had only a few prominent black Republicans, including Jackie Robinson and Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts. In 2020, millions of proud African Americans are conservative champions of free markets, capitalism and individual initiative, and they have been making enormous contributions to restoring our nation’s greatness.
Mark Schulte is a retired New City schoolteacher and mathematician who has written extensively about science and the history of science. Read Mark Schulte’s Report’s — More Here.
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