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Top Down
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Top Down
The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism

Karen Ferguson

336 pages | 6 x 9 | 15 illus.
Cloth 2013 | ISBN 9780812245264 | $55.00s | Outside the Americas £44.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Politics and Culture in Modern America
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Received honorable mention for the 2014 Canadian Association for American Studies Robert K. Martin Prize

"Vigorously argued and thoroughly grounded in research from the extensive Ford Foundation archives, this important book carefully traces the roots of the Foundation's 'developmental separatism' as well as the evolving contours of social and political thought within the black public sphere, effectively putting the two forms of separatism in dialogue with one another."—Alice O'Connor, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Karen Ferguson's Top Down is a provocative and often brilliant history of the single most important philanthropic institution in the long civil rights era. The Ford Foundation and similar philanthropies, she argues compellingly, shaped Black Power and other radical movements of the 1960s and 1970s."—Felicia Kornbluh, University of Vermont

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."

Karen Ferguson is Associate Professor of History and Urban Studies at Simon Fraser University and author of Black Politics in New Deal Atlanta.

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