Since a major role of the institute is to facilitate a creative and useful exchange of ideas—especially of new ideas—it was natural that we should put together a major conference on black and minority issues. The objective was to begin a dialogue and to give full expression to the search which has touched many of this country's brightest and most creative thinkers, black and white alike.
Thomas Sowell was the central figure in organizing the conference, both in arranging the program and in selecting speakers and other participants. Another important to its organization was Dr. Henry Lucas, Jr., who is also a director of the institute. Dr. Lucas and Dr. Sowell selected speakers on the basis of their expertise in four specific policy areasthe economy, education, business and the professions, and politics. To facilitate the exchange of ideas, working sessions were structured with formal speakers followed by discussants, the latter responding to individual papers. Finally, time was left for discussion with the audience. Participants were chosen from black leaders who have shown concern in exploring new policy directions. Otherwise, there was great diversity among them: some were Democrats, some were Republicans; some had conservative backgrounds, quite a number had radical backgrounds. They came from all parts of the country.
We were particularly fortunate to have the participation of Milton Friedman, who has thought and written about a number of these problems for many years, and of Edwin Meese III, a recent director of the institute who resigned to become counselor to the president in the new administration. Mr. Meese's attendance, coming as it did at an extraordinarily busy time during the transition which he was directing, revealed the extent and depth of the new administration's interest in exploring new policy directions.
This volume of The Fairmont Papers takes its name from the fact that our Black Alternatives Conference took place on 12 and 13 December 1980 at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco. The book contains edited excerpts from the conference transcript. It is a record of what many are calling a historic event. Not only did the conference generate enormous publicity nationwide, but it has stimulated an important series of related activities including ideas for additional conferences and symposia, plans to establish new national organizations for black alternatives, and similar developments. It also appears to have been instrumental in stirring a national debate on issues concerning blacks and minorities—on who speaks for blacks, and where future progress may be found.
We hope that this book will further encourage these developments. Few issues are as important, and few deserve more fundamental reexamination. The institute conference and this book are important first steps.
H. Monroe Browne
Institute for Contemporary Studies
San Francisco, California