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

By Karen Ferguson | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
The Social Development Solution

In 1962, the Ford Foundation’s trustees released Directives and Terms of Reference for the 1960s, an implicit call to action against Henry Heald, the Foundation’s president. Heald’s conservatism and top-down management style had been very attractive to the board just a few years before in the wake of the 1950s Red Scare, but now he seemed stodgy and ill suited for stewardship of Ford’s almost limitless resources and the activist ethos of its founding mission. John F. Kennedy’s election in 1960 emboldened the Foundation trustees and the rest of the postwar liberal establishment to act on their ambitions for the nation and the world. Modernization and the other, attendant ideological foundations of postwar liberalism reached the peak of their influence during the New Frontier, restoring the trustees’ confidence and impatience to make a real mark on American society. In the Kennedy era, the trustees felt that they could and must reaffirm the Foundation’s purpose. In the Directives, they recommitted themselves to the Gaither report’s mission of conflict resolution at home and abroad. They advocated for a program of “courageous experiment,” in which the Foundation took “affirmative action” in dealing with an enormous range of domestic and international social problems through demonstrations of new programs and the creation of new institutions, some of which they fully expected might fail but should nevertheless be tested.1

The trustees’ renewed activism was also prompted by the Foundation’s ever-ballooning coffers, a product of the Foundation’s 1955 sale of more than $600 million in Ford Motor stock and of ongoing postwar national prosperity. By 1966, the Foundation’s $3.3 billion endowment was more than three times that of the Rockefeller Foundation, its nearest rival.2 In short, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today, Ford in the 1960s could afford to be ambitious and experimental, and even to make mistakes. As the trustees boasted in the Directives, the Ford Foundation was “probably the only private institution which can mount an effort sizable enough to make a critical difference

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