The Great Decolorizer

As a student radical in the late sixties, Ed Blum fought for affirmative action. Now, as a middle- aged neocon, he wants to destroy it.

Blum, though, isn't worried. He characterizes alarmed educators as "Chicken Littles" and says there's no reason educational institutions cannot attract low-income minority candidates by offering financial aid based on income rather than race.

"Why should the daughter of a successful, highly educated black CPA be allowed a preference at a university, or at HISD, or a job contract, over the daughter of a white custodian at Spring Branch Elementary?" he asks. "We have progressed so far in this country that to use skin color as a proxy for economic deprivation is wrong."

Ed Blum himself grew up in a lower-middle-class family of staunch Democrats. His mother, Shirley, was an FDR supporter and during World War II held a government job in Washington, D.C. His father, Joseph, served in the army. At the end of the war, because Joseph spoke Yiddish, he was assigned to supervise the relocation of Holocaust survivors from the Nazi concentration camp at Mannheim.

When Joseph's tour of duty was over, he and Shirley settled in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Joseph worked trade show circuits across the Midwest, looking to buy products in bulk and later sell the items to individuals. Ed was born in 1952, and as a boy, often accompanied his father on the sales expeditions.

"We'd stop at a motel to spend the night on the road," Ed remembers. "The innkeeper would say, '$28 for the room.' Dad would say, 'What size underwear do you wear?' He'd end up swapping out the underwear or whatever else he had in the car instead of money. We'd do tape recorders if it was an electronics show, vases if it was a houseware show."

The Blums moved to Houston in 1961. Shirley and Joseph, both staunch civil rights supporters, picketed Woolworth in support of desegregation, and Ed showed similar convictions. When he enrolled at UT in 1969, he joined the Taskforce for the Improvement of Minority Education.

"I was one of the co-chairs," remembers Blum. "We made a lot of noise. Demands were very big back then, and we demanded that the board of regents implement an aggressive minority outreach undergraduate program. We were pro-quota. Goddamn it, if you can't attract them, well, you gotta get' em."

Decades later, another member of TIME would bitterly oppose Blum. Even so, Blum remembers Jew Don Boney fondly. "Jew Don had a bit of mazich in him," Blum says, using a Yiddish word for a prankster. "He was kind of a mischievous little demon. A good wild side to him, I mean a real good wild side, a broad wild side. But a committed person, too." Both he and Boney wore braces, Blum remembers, and they partied together; Blum says he loaned Boney his sports car a few times.

Boney, however, doesn't share the memory. Told of Blum's recollections of their friendship, Boney replied, "I don't think so," sarcastically stretching the vowels. "I don't recall anybody loaning me a car, much less an Anglo student. We weren't that close. People's minds get real fuzzy after 20 or 30 years."

During his college years, Blum also became friendly with a Nigerian professor, Sunday Inouzie, who taught African literature. With the professor's encouragement, Blum enrolled in graduate school at the State University of New York with a specialty in West African writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.

Practicality dictated Blum's choice of specialty: In that tiny field, he could quickly become a major player. "If I determined to make academics my career," he explains, "then this might be an interesting area where I could make myself unique. It was possible back in 1974, '75, to perhaps sit down and read every published novel that came out of West Africa."

After a year of study, and with little money, Blum abandoned academia and returned to Houston. After a series of odd jobs, he became a substitute teacher, then a full-fledged English teacher at predominantly black Yates High School. After two and a half years, he left that job too. "I found I probably wasn't a good enough teacher," he says. "I enjoyed it. But I'm not sure how effective I was."

He then tried his hand as a bookstore owner. Neighborhood Books sold mysteries, thrillers and the like to residents of Braeburn Valley in southwest Houston. There Blum encountered his first conservative mentor: University of Houston political science professor Allan Stone. An espionage-novel junkie, Stone lived a few blocks from the store and soon came to rely on Blum's recommendations. "Right from a very low-level job, you saw this tremendous energy and interest," remembers Stone. "When Ed does something, he tries to do it well."

But Blum's expertise wasn't enough to keep his enterprise afloat. The bookstore business began to sour in the late '70s as national chains such as B. Dalton and Waldenbooks moved into the Houston market, offering discount prices that Blum couldn't match.

Yet again, he launched a completely new career: selling financial products. He joined a Galleria-area branch of the A.G. Edwards brokerage firm, and from there moved to the PaineWebber operation in the same building. He formed a partnership with another broker, advising individual and institutional clients on investments, with a specialty in public finance.

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