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In Memoriam: Walter E. Williams

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

The great economist, political theorist, and teacher Dr. Walter E. Williams, John M. Olin

Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, passed away on December 2, 2020. Although he was often described as an African American or Black conservative, Professor Williams’ teaching and commentary, anchored firmly in the classical economics of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Frédéric Bastiat, and Henry Hazlitt, defied racial stereotyping.


It wasn't that Dr. Williams rejected his racial heritage, rather his thinking, writing and teaching transcended the easy use of race to explain economic phenomenon, concentrating instead on rigorously applying classical economic concepts to explain economic outcomes.


In a remembrance of Prof. Williams, his friend, student and colleague Peter Boettke, University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University, wrote, “He sought truth in the human condition aided by the rigorous logic of economic reasoning and the discipline of the scientific method. Like his teachers, he was confronted with doubters for his analysis of the negative consequences of public policies designed to help the poor but that instead further disadvantaged them. He tried to get those doubters to see through received political rhetoric, to get them to study the world as it is, not the fanciful one they might imagine.”


Prof. Boettke recalled it was the great Milton Friedman who encouraged Williams to write about economics for popular audiences, and it was through his columns and popular media appearances that Prof. Williams became an icon of the conservative movement.


But his popular commentaries on economics, government policy and the deleterious effects of government policies on the economic advancement of poor people should not mask his serious economic research and scholarly books and journal articles.


As Prof. Boettke noted, Dr. Williams “published 13 books. The State Against Blacks (1982), written in affiliation with the Manhattan Institute, and South Africa’s War Against Capitalism (1989) are his most powerful analytically. He also published dozens of academic papers in various professional journals and law reviews. These pieces challenge conventional wisdom, based on economic reasoning and weighing the evidence judiciously.”


Our friend Ken Blackwell, an associate of Prof. Williams at the Heritage Foundation and on the Policy Board of the American Constitutional Rights Union, said of Walter E. Williams, “there was no subject too hot for Walter in his quest to educate and encourage personal responsibility and a foundational understanding of freedom, from his brilliant 1998 book "The Historical Origin of Christianity" to the insightful 2011 treatise "Race and Economics."


Williams’ popular writings and columns in the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal and other outlets were eagerly anticipated not only for their rigorous analysis of the day’s political and cultural events, but also for the bon mots that made them entertaining as well as thought provoking.

One of his more memorable tweaks of the professional race grievance grifters was his “Proclamation of Amnesty and Pardon Granted to All Persons of European Descent.“

Whereas, Europeans kept my forebears in bondage some three centuries toiling without pay,
Whereas, Europeans ignored the human rights pledges of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution,
Whereas, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments meant little more than empty words,
Therefore, Americans of European ancestry are guilty of great crimes against my ancestors and their progeny.
But, in the recognition Europeans themselves have been victims of various and sundry human rights violations to wit: the Norman Conquest, the Irish Potato Famine, Decline of the Hapsburg Dynasty, Napoleonic and Czarist adventurism, and gratuitous insults and speculations about the intelligence of Europeans of Polish descent,
I, Walter E. Williams, do declare full and general amnesty and pardon to all persons of European ancestry, for both their own grievances, and those of their forebears, against my people.
Therefore, from this day forward Americans of European ancestry can stand straight and proud knowing they are without guilt and thus obliged not to act like damn fools in their relationships with Americans of African ancestry.

George Mason University scrubbed the proclamation from its website, but you can find it here on FreeRepublic.com, and Prof. Williams continued to promote it in columns and articles which pointed out the deleterious effects of white guilt-inspired efforts to “fix” the impediments to the economic advancement of African Americans.


We join Ken Blackwell and Professor Williams’ thousands of students and millions of fans in mourning this lauded economist, academic, educator, and relentless defender of constitutional freedom as well as economic and individual liberty. He lit a path for every American seeking understanding of our founding and national values.

  • Walter E. Williams

  • conservative movement

  • economics professor

  • Thomas Sowell

  • black conservatives

  • George Mason University

  • Peter Boettke

  • Milton Friedman

  • Ken Blackwell

  • Heritage Foundation

  • white guilt

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