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

By Karen Ferguson | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Developmental Separatism and
Community Control

When the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of Education and the New York Board of Education joined forces in the early 1950s to deal with the “problem” of Puerto Rican migration to the city, their solution was clear. The authors of the study that resulted from their collaboration were confident that the “rapid adjustment of Puerto Rican children and parents to the community and the community to them”1 would result from a conflictfree integration of these children into racially mixed public schools where they would have access to a wide array of cutting-edge enrichment programs aimed at their acculturation to city life. This rosy view of a desegregated future in New York City’s schools was based on two core assumptions undergirding postwar racial liberalism. The first was that school segregation was a Southern, regional problem of Jim Crow law and premodern irrationality that would be dealt with through the landmark 1954 Brown Supreme Court decision. The second was that racial liberalism prevailed among whites in the modern, industrial North and that any racial segregation that did exist there was natural or accidental, not the result of deliberate policy. Instead, the key racial issue in New York City was one of assimilating the largely nonwhite and rural migrants streaming into cities from the Puerto Rico and the U.S. South into the modern mainstream.

However, in the years to come, this worldview and hypothesis would be sorely tested in New York City and other cities round the nation. Recalcitrant officials, spurred on by white citizens’ resistance, stymied desegregation in the South and North. Meanwhile, instead of becoming centers of migrant assimilation, ghetto schools deteriorated nationwide. In New York City specifically, the Board of Education that cosponsored the Puerto Rican Study belied its commitment to integration and acculturation. It refused to acknowledge

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