We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era

By Robert C. Smith; Ronald W. Walters | Go to book overview

4
Black Incorporation and Institutionalization
in the Post—Civil Rights Era:
Leading America and Leading Blacks

In his enduringly fascinating and still controversial study of the organization of power in American society, C. Wright Mills makes the point that there are three levels of power in the United States: (1) a power elite of top-level economic, military and political decision makers which in an overlapping, intricate set of cliques share decisions of national consequence in economic and foreign policy; (2) a diversified and relatively balanced pluralist structure of power at the middle level represented in the Congress, the two parties, state governments and local politics; and (3) the mass of unorganized people who have relatively little power over those at the middle level or the elite. 1

Building on the work of Mills and others, Thomas Dye and his colleagues in the early 1970s sought to specify empirically the individuals who constitute the nation's power elite. Mills argued that power in the United States was largely institutional because "no one . . . can be truly powerful unless he has access to the command of major institutions, for it is over these institutional means of power that the truly powerful are, in the first instance, powerful." 2 Employing this institutional approach to the study of the elite Dye developed an operational definition that includes those "individuals who occupy the top positions in the institutional structure of American society. These are the individuals who possess the formal authority to formulate, direct and manage programs, policies and activities of the major corporate, governmental, legal, educational, civic and cultural institutions in the nation." 3 This definition of the institutional elite resulted in the identification of 7,314 elite positions in three interlocking sectors, including the corporate sector (major corporations, financial institution, utilities, insurance and transportation), the public interest sector (the major national media, educational and philanthropic institutions, and the leading law firms and civic and cultural organizations) and the government sector (the top federal executive, legislative, judicial and mili

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