Bill Spriggs: A Black Labor Leader Who Challenged Discriminatory Systems Against Black Economists And Workers
Bill Spriggs, who notably called out the role of economists in perpetuating racism, built a legacy as one of our nation’s most accomplished, effective and respected economics professionals and policymakers whose guidance was sought by business and political leaders, including the President of the United States.
The trailblazing specialist at AFL-CIO and beloved friend at BLACK ENTERPRISE has reportedly passed away at the age of 68, according to an announcement posted by the federation union. As an educator, Spriggs’ commitment to racial justice and Black economic equality will continue to be a model for generations to come.
According to a statement, Derek Dingle, EVP and Chief Content Officer at BE, first met Spriggs as a student at Norfolk State University where he taught economics. He is proud to have witnessed Spriggs’ ascension in the fields of economics, policy and labor for more than 40 years.
“I will always remember Bill for his loyalty and energy in advancing the mission of BLACK ENTERPRISE, spending time and making invaluable contributions to our economic and business coverage as a trusted source and through his vital commentary,” said Dingle.
“As an esteemed member of the BE Board of Economists, he embraced our nation’s greatest economic challenges – especially in driving Black employment and closing the racial wealth gap – and always offered incisive analysis as well as innovative solutions.”
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Bill Spriggs, a man who brought as much lasting brilliance to economics as he brought joy to his friends and colleagues,” President Biden shared in a statement.
Biden described Spriggs as a “towering figure in his field” and “a trailblazer who challenged the field’s basic assumptions about racial discrimination in labor markets, pay equity, and worker empowerment.”
An advocacy champion for Black economic equality
Born in Washington, DC, William Edward Spriggs graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and holds a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Sprigg’s tireless devotion to racial injustice is a reflection of his resilient parents, a Tuskegee Airman and a member of the Women’s Army Corps. His experience as a Black man pursuing the economic space is emulated in his dissertation, “Afro-American Wealth Accumulation, 1900-1914,” which he defended at the University of Wisconsin
The dissertation outlined the ongoing acts of segregation and discrimination in land and labor markets by evidencing the way these systems blocked access to wealth for Blacks people.
From the National Urban League and the US Department of Commerce to the Small Business Administration, Spriggs’ achievements are monumental. He went onto educate thousands of Black students as a Professor and Chair of the Economics Department at Howard University, and proudly declared it in a recorded interview.
As the former chair of the Howard University Economics Department, Spriggs continued to mentor and mold the next generation of Black economists with his government service, academic, and advocacy work. He also taught six years at Norfolk State University and for two years at North Carolina A&T State University.
Even President Obama tapped into Briggs’ commendable fight for worker’s rights when he nominated him, with Senate approval, to be Assistant Secretary for Policy at the US Department of Labor. His term witnessed the Great Recession and its most severe economic and financial crises in a generation.
A fighter for racial injustice
Following George Floyd’s 2020 brutal murder by a white police officer, Spriggs was unstoppable. He penned an open letter to economists. He brought attention to the profession’s extensive and despicable history on race, including committed eugenists who see Black Americans as an inferior race.
“Watching the other three police officers sit by and do nothing about the murder means you have to question other assumptions too. But I am not sure if this moment has gotten to economists enough to see their role as economists in perpetuating the very things they wish to recoil from,” Spriggs wrote.
Upon hearing about Spriggs’ passing, the Twitter community have continued to pay their respects with honorable interactions and everlasting memories. Spriggs was a generous man to many and an intellectual force who motivated them to continue his life’s work.
Our labor movement has precious few individuals who can bring a true worker perspective to the nuanced economic policy debates, and then return to advise the broad working class with wisdom and insight. Now we have one less.
— John Marshall, CFA (@jmarshall_cfa) June 7, 2023
A fellow graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a scholar on the wealth distribution before it was a hot academic subject, a prolific economist, and a powerful advocate for equity and for his Howard students. I will very much miss our interactions.
— C. Eugene Steuerle (@EugeneSteuerle) June 7, 2023
Devastated to hear the news of Dr. William Spriggs’ passing! He left a tremendous mark on society, contributing to the first-in-the-nation California Reparation Task Force, including the compensation section of our final report, releasing on June 29. Rest well! #ReparationsNow
— Kamilah Moore, Esq. (@KamilahMooreEsq) June 7, 2023
A big loss to the community overall and in academia and policy. He was really instrumental in helping me embark upon a policy focused economics pathway. He will be missed!
— Bradley Hardy (@bl_hardy) June 8, 2023