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

By Karen Ferguson | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Modernizing Migrants

In 1967, the Ford Foundation’s annual report included a special message from its president, McGeorge Bundy. Writing in the context of what he termed “the terrible riots of 1967,” Bundy’s essay nevertheless put forth a relentlessly positive argument about the nation’s racial future, despite what he acknowledged were the dire facts of its past and present. Among these, he highlighted America’s long and defining history of institutionalized racial exploitation, the white backlash that had met African Americans’ freedom struggle, and the separatism of black power that marked their abandonment of the nation and its liberal promise of equality. Regardless of this dismal record, Bundy pledged that American society would “solve this problem.” “The only possible final outcome,” he claimed, was to emerge on “the far side of prejudice,” to a future in which whites came to “regard as natural the equality” that today “many of … us see only as logical.” “The preachers of hate” both black and white, he wrote, “who seem so much the men of the moment are in fact merely spume on the wave of the past.” They were “temporary” obstructions to the march of progress for black people in a United States whose institutions “will have to be open to all” and in which “Negroes” would “take their share of leadership.”

Bundy based his optimism on the “effort” that the Ford Foundation and other “leaders of good will and peaceful purpose” were willing to take to make his vision come true. “There is nothing automatic about any part of the American Dream,” he told his readers. Instead, those “who want peaceful progress toward equality will have to work for it” with “speed and imagination, as well as steady determination.” Even individuals and institutions, which “have done good work in the past will be found wanting if they do not do still more in the future,” he continued, declaring that his “Ford Foundation expects to be measured by this test.”1

Considering Bundy’s promises from the perspective of a future that

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