At first glance, the Ford Foundation and the black power
movement would make an unlikely partnership. After the Second World
War, the renowned Foundation was the largest philanthropic
organization in the United States and was dedicated to projects of
liberal reform. Black power ideology, which promoted
self-determination over color-blind assimilation, was often
characterized as radical and divisive. But Foundation president
McGeorge Bundy chose to engage rather than confront black power's
challenge to racial liberalism through an ambitious, long-term
strategy to foster the "social development" of racial minorities.
The Ford Foundation not only bankrolled but originated many of the
black power era's hallmark legacies: community control of public
schools, ghetto-based economic development initiatives, and
race-specific arts and cultural organizations.
In Top Down, Karen Ferguson explores the consequences of
this counterintuitive and unequal relationship between the liberal
establishment and black activists and their ideas. In essence, the
white liberal effort to reforge a national consensus on race had
the effect of remaking racial liberalism from the top down-a
domestication of black power ideology that still flourishes in
current racial politics. Ultimately, this new racial liberalism
would help foster a black leadership class-including Barack
Obama-while accommodating the intractable inequality that first
drew the Ford Foundation to address the "race problem."
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