Thomas Sowell (1930- )

Written By Adrienne Dunn

Born in Gastonia, North Carolina, Thomas Sowell moved to New York with his family at a young age. While in New York, Sowell attended classes for the gifted at Stuyvesant High School.  After leaving high school in the tenth grade, Sowell worked in a factory for four years.  He later earned his high school degree by attending night classes. In 1951, he was drafted to serve in the United States Marine Corps and became a photographer in the Korean War. After Sowell’s service with the Marines ended, he attended Howard University as part the G.I. Bill.

A senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, Sowell, an African American conservative, is noted for his works regarding social and economic issues.  Sowell considers programs such as affirmative action, busing, and welfare as safety nets that do not promote self-reliance. As an advocate of the “pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps” philosophy, which urges people to depend on themselves rather than government initiatives, Sowell believes that government programs such as affirmative action actually hurt African Americans’ chances for equality.

In Preferential Policies: An International Perspective, Sowell discusses the result of affirmative action in America. He argues that preferential treatment leads to relaxed standards, and those ultimately lead to groups failing. Liberal African Americans and left-wing whites took offense to Sowell’s arguments and labeled his statements as one-dimensional.

In addition to his research at the Hoover Institute, Sowell has written a nationally syndicated column that appears in more than 150 newspapers from Boston to Honolulu. Also, the Hoover Institute Press has published some of his essays in Controversial Essays. Sowell, over the past three decades, has taught economics at various colleges and universities, including Cornell, Amherst, and at the University of California at Los Angeles.  He has taught the history of ideas at Brandeis University.

Sowell is the recipient of the Francis Boyer Award, the National Humanities Medal, and the Bradley Prize for intellectual achievement.