With all this talk of Confederate monuments, I started wondering if there was anyone in history that couldn't be considered racist by some modern standard.

I understand many historical figures didn't speak on race, so I would limit this question to people who, in some way or another, espoused views on race that would be considered in-line with a modern, progressive viewpoint (or close to it).

Put another way, a person who could be plucked from history and brought to the 20th century without any worry about them having controversial views. They might even rejoice at how far society had progressed (relatively speaking).

For example, Abraham Lincoln is often remembered as the president who freed the slaves. However, if we brought him to the present, some of his remarks in the past suggest he would disagree with certain policies regarding racial equality, discrimination, etc.

I guess I'll limit this to racism, but if the person was also progressive regarding other forms of discrimination (sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) that would be a bonus. For the time, I think pre-1900 would be a minimum, but the further back the better.

Edit: I guess I should also limit this to individuals that weren't part of an oppressed population in their society, or there will probably be a lot more answers.

Edit 2: I realize this is kind of a vague question. I've just been tired of hearing the old "you can't judge them by modern standards" and was hoping to hear some good counter examples.

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    I guess that William Wilberforce might meet your criteria. He has statues in Kingston-upon-Hull (his birthplace) and Westminster Abbey. I'm not aware of any current plans to tear them down. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 17:00
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    This is certainly at risk of the absence of evidence being taken as evidence of absence. Lack of any record isn't proof that they wouldn't be considered racist (or sexist or homophobic, etc.) by modern standards.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:22
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    @Charlie: You might also reflect that slavery had been the norm for all of human history.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:51
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    @Charlie - The most obvious counter in Lee's case is the instance where as an executor of a will that clearly emancipated all the slaves, he went to court and got a 5 year stay (and kept them all every minute of those 5 years). But really the claim of him not being a supremacist is modern balderdash that doesn't stand up to even a cursory examination of the life of the man.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 19:15
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    I'm going to have to downvote for your edit - the notion that members of minorities are automatically absolved of racism flies in the face of history. African Americans and Irish Americans had a fine tradition of contempt for one another. There are several minority religions that have startlingly racist views.
    – MCW
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 20:47

2 Answers 2


There were many. Quaker leaders for one. How about Frederick Douglass?

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    I think that Frederick Douglass would fail under the criteria imposed by the OP's edit addition "limit this to individuals that weren't part of an oppressed population in their society". Good choice otherwise though. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:04
  • @sempaiscuba - If the question were "bigoted", I'd still give it to this answer because he fought to give women the vote as well.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:40
  • @T.E.D. I'd agree, except that OP also limited the question to racism, rather than wider questions of prejudice. But I do know about Frederick Douglass. That's why I said he's a good choice otherwise. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 19:37

This is a meaningless question unless you focus on some period in history. Racism is a relatively modern invention. Almost any person before 16 century would have a clean record in this respect by modern standards.

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    Clarifying a bit. Human beings have pattern-matching brains, so judging someone based on looks is probably as old as our species. However, the concept of "race" as thing separate from culture, and being transmitted inerrently through bloodlines forever, is a very European thing. Your typical tribal society has no compunction about adopting people from other cultures who honestly want to join. For example, the main Cherokee chief on the Trail of Tears was 7/8ths Scotts (and had red hair).
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 19:50
  • I agree with your comment, but want to emphasize that this is a LATE European invention.
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 1:53
  • I am not sure why you put the borderline in the 16th century. In pre-modern Europe people classified themselves and others mainly on the basis of religion. It is not really until the 19th century that "race" replaces religion as the basis for classification of individuals and societies.
    – fdb
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 9:17
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    @fdb: you are right. I choose 16 century, just to be on the "safe side".
    – Alex
    Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 13:22

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