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

By Karen Ferguson | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Black Power and the End of
Community Action

In the first months of 1968, the newly elected governing board for the I.S. 201 community-control demonstration district and its recently hired administrator, Charles E. Wilson, sent the Ford Foundation’s Mario Fantini their proposal for the schools in East Harlem, along with a request for the Ford Foundation to fund and otherwise support the plan. The board, which was dominated by activists from East Harlem MEND who had been involved in the schools fight at least since the I.S. 201 controversy, was more than ready, as Wilson put it, for “the forces in favor of community control” to “take the offensive.” They wrote Fantini because, although the Board of Education was the official sponsor of the I.S. 201 “unit,” the Foundation had been the district’s de facto benefactor, providing it with the financial and technical support for its planning and election phases. Wilson and the board also believed that Fantini and the Foundation were their allies, based on their words and actions ever since McGeorge Bundy’s 1966 intervention in the I.S. 201 crisis. Wilson and the board wanted four things from Ford: first, a “lump sum grant” to put their community-control plans into place; second, “expertise, as and when [they] request [it]”; third, “a forum and a platform from which [they] can get [their] message across,” and fourth, “access to other financial sources and institutions.” In short, they desired the Foundation to be the servant of the unit—to bankroll and advocate for it, while respecting the district’s authority and autonomy as an experiment in community control. In no way did they seek a “dependency relationship” with or “counterfeit nurturance” from the Ford Foundation, both of which they knew would threaten the black self-determination that for them was this experiment’s raison d’être.1 To these ends, the governing board requested that the Foundation compel Columbia University to release the ghetto development portion of its recent $10

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