Carol Swain, an internationally renowned author on politics and race in America, is Dr. Swain, a former professor at Vanderbilt University is often seen on Fox News and Newsmax to provide information on subjects such as Critical Race Theory, school choice, and more.
Swain was a Tennessee resident and I had the opportunity to speak with her about her family, as well as how she came to be a conservative in later life. She also discussed college campus free speech. Swain was born in poverty, and she worked her way up to the academic field where she taught liberal perspectives for many years. Swain discusses the changing nature of American politics and history through the interview.
This interview was edited to improve clarity, grammar and length.
Cameron Arcand:Please tell me a little about yourself and what influenced your conservatism. Also, can you describe how your life has led to you where you are today.
Dr. Carol Swain I’d say, unlike most people that I have encountered in academia, I come from a non-traditional background. My family was from the South and southwestern Virginia. I was raised in rural South. In a tiny two-room cottage with no indoor plumbing, I began my journey to becoming a person. The schools in my childhood were not segregated. This is Bedford County in Virginia. I was born in ’54. This was also the year of Brown V. Brown of Education Supreme Court Decision [on] desegregating schools.
Part of that decision stipulated that schools would be segregated with every deliberate speed. Each locality had the right to decide how fast they wanted. Virginia led the resistance to integration. It was in the 1960s that our schools were integrated. So, I would say that, maybe, the schools in Virginia where I lived may have integrated in ’67.
It is likely that I was in the fourth- or fifth grades when integration took place. Even though teachers attempted to integrate us, my experience in primary school was that I received an excellent education from predominantly black schools. They told us that the white students had newer books, and for some reason, I had the impression that white people were smarter than black people or that I would be behind, that I could be smart in the black school; but when we integrated, I wouldn’t be. And much to my surprise, I learned that I was smart at the predominantly white school, as well as the black school–that it had nothing to do with race–and that I was prepared.
Although I left school in the 8th grade, I found myself missing quite a bit of school. Because I was convinced that college wasn’t an option for me, I didn’t see it as an option. I didn’t know anything about scholarships. Perhaps because I was at such low grades, there wasn’t anyone who could have told me about college.
CA: But that education background, and then you bring that into today’s context. There’s this huge debate right now about school choice and where students can go to school in different communities.
CS: As a kid, I had no choice about where to go school. My generation went to public school. I think the focus of public schools was on education. Mathematics, English, science, and reading. I don’t believe that there were any efforts at indoctrination, but there were some politics involved in what was taking place. One of my memories is that my school was integrated by a teacher. He was telling his class that there was relief coming because George Wallace was running to be president. I was pushing back, in a way, that you would almost say I was militant because I love James Brown said, “Say it loud, I’m black and proud.” That spoke to me. It was then that I remembered drawing a Wanted: Dead or Alive poster for George Wallace, and nipping it to a branch. This was so that the bus driver could see George Wallace’s poster.
However, I do know what my teachers did. In the sense that they were patriotic in that we all took the pledge of allegiance and I sometimes led it, We then crossed our arms and raised our hands towards the flag by placing one hand on our hearts. I guess that’s not done very often, but that’s the way we did it.
It was something I felt so proud of to be American, and it was all I knew. The Civil Rights Movement was taking place, I was aware of it. It was like I had the upper hand. However, America was my belief. It was my belief that the police protected me. I didn’t know the Civil Rights Movement was happening, even though I lived there. I was shocked to discover that the place I had moved to, no riots, took place when I arrived in the city. It was disappointing because I had wanted to take part in one. So, we didn’t have school choice. I’m a big advocate for school choice today, because the quality of public education from when I was a child has so eroded.
CA:And what makes you think this is so?
CS: The 1960s were a time when the whole world was in chaos. I wasn’t aware of much of what was taken as taken place as a child, other than the unrest that I watched on TV. It’s so interesting because even amid that poverty, you know, we got electricity and we had a TV. The TV was installed in the two-room cottage. One comedian made a funny joke and said, “There was this family.” [who was]The baby had to be kept in its original box with TV because it was so bad. That was my 1960s experience.
CA:It was a long time you were a professor, and now you have just spoken of the Sixties. That era and its influence on academia is what I am thinking about. As a professor, what were some of the things you noticed?
CS:I was indoctrinated into the academic world. Yes, I was also indoctrinated.
[I]Naturally, it was assumed with the Democrats[…]It was the Democrats who care about me that I believed in the big switch. It escaped me, until maybe 15 or 20 years ago, to look at Virginia’s history and the Byrd machine that was oppressing blacks and shut down the school system in Prince Edward County for, I believe, 10 years, rather than to integrate. They were Democrats. The first Republican Governor was inaugurated in Virginia in 1969. Linwood Holton was a newsworthy figure at that time.
I didn’t know about it. This was because I was trying survive those years. However, he held his small children in his arms and took them to Richmond’s public schools. The schools were integrated. It was quite the opposite to what I believed about the history of political parties. Then law and law, they claim that Nixon won on the basis of law and ordered. Because I believed these ideas, these were the books I read.
CA: Now, when we see what’s happening on college campuses today, where it’s very common for students to get canceled for having different political viewpoints, we’ll see [one] of two responses from an administration, either fully taking the side of the mob that wants that student either ousted or their voice silenced, or they’re very passive about it. They do their best to keep it out of the way. But at the end of the day, that student who just wanted to share a differing opinion almost never wins the game unless it’s a legal battle.
CS: Professors don’t either. One thing that made academia intolerable for me was President Obama’s election. It was then that the Marxist ideology took off. They applied restorative justice to education. They also used it in the criminal justice system. I found that professors were targeted and the year that I had… It was 2015, I published a controversial opinion piece criticizing Islam. What the university did, and what universities do, is they issued a press release that Professor Carol Swain didn’t represent Vanderbilt and that Vanderbilt stood for free speech. It must have been sent out at least five to six times.
They would discredit me every time I gave an interview. So, there was no pressure on me to quit. My decision was to take an early retirement. However, in the same year the mob arrived for me it came for four tenured full professors. I mean, the left, wasn’t going for the low-hanging fruit of the untenured professor, because those were easy to get rid of. They wanted full professors. I’ve often stated that I was treated as an older white man.
I had no value because I was not a part of the women’s studies program, and I was not a part of Afro-American studies. I had no value to them as an individual, and I’ve always been an individualist. That’s how I think academia is now, that the only value that you have as…even an LGBT person…even a gay person, has no value to the institution if they’re conservative, if they’re not a part of Queer Studies and they’re not pushing themselves in that way, then they would be canceled in the same way. You’re either with the mob or you’re not.
CA:You could encourage conservative professors or students in similar situations.
CS: They have many more friends on campus than they realize. It was amazing to see how many students were there, some even minorities. I was supported by them. You know that other Christians were not as strong, and that they would only stand up if they reached retirement. It used to bother me. It doesn’t bother me now, because I think you need people like me and you also need the quiet types. However, I believe that we are all more than they are.
There’s a biblical Scripture about that with Elijah, that [you] don’t assume that you are alone. It is important to always work on principles. I believe that principles are fundamental to our existence. Principled positions are always the strongest.
When I’m dealing with CRT and diversity, equity, and inclusion, I stand on the principles and I stand on the law. The very idea that some people think it’s acceptable to do to white people because, “All white people are privileged, even if they grew up in Appalachia. And, you know, the parents never finished the third grade, and they’ve lived in the same holler for generations.”
It seems that a white person has more privilege than the children of the most powerful black people. This is a lie, I am sure. The Constitution’s equal protection clause must be upheld. Truth, principles and values are going to prevail over the moment we’re living in right now. I think that there is more, there’s more support among the political left. I’m talking about classical liberals. Some liberals at campus believe in free speech, and they are unhappy with the current situation.
And they don’t know when they’re going to be canceled because the mob, you know, went after the conservatives first, but now they eat their own. We as a nation would be better off with universities returning to places where you have the illusion, at least, of a marketplace of ideas, where they have some diversity, even if it’s token diversity. Without opposing ideas, education is not possible.