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292 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

Ferguson and Foundations: Are We Doing Enough?

November 25, 2014

Blackmalestudent_301X400Like many Americans, I was glued to my television set last night as I watched the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, erupt in violence. This is not a post about the merits of a grand jury's decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Rather, it is my attempt to make sense of a very complicated situation and to ask whether philanthropy is doing enough to address the fact that there are too many Michael Browns in America, too many angry and frustrated communities like Ferguson, too much real and perceived injustice in our society, and too much polarization in the way these difficult issues are covered and discussed.

You don't need me to tell you that nearly every major indicator of social and physical well-being underscores the fact that black men and boys in the United States do not have access to the structural supports and educational and economic opportunities they need to thrive. More than a quarter of black men and boys live in poverty. Black fathers are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to live apart from their children. Young black males have the highest teen death rate, at 94 deaths per 100,000, and 40 percent of those deaths are homicides. Black males between the ages of 25 and 39 are more likely to be incarcerated than any other demographic group, leading author and civil rights advocate Michelle Alexander to note that "More African American adults are under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began."

Is philanthropy doing enough to address this appalling state of affairs? In a word, "no" — though in some ways that should not be surprising. Foundations are endowed, private institutions required to serve the public good in a way approved as "charitable" by the Internal Revenue Service and in accordance with their donors' intent. They are fiercely independent, idiosyncratic, and, at times, risk averse and short-sighted. A foundation executive once told me he and his colleagues had given up on access to safe water as a program area because "it was too complicated and we couldn't have any impact." Yet foundations have the choice to be different, not least because they represent one of the few remaining sources of un-earmarked capital in the economy. It is precisely this independence and autonomy that gives them the freedom to take risks and work on long-term solutions.

That fact has not been lost on many foundations, and a number of them — including big foundations like Open Society, Ford, Kellogg, and the California Endowment, and smaller ones like the Charles Hayden Foundation in New York — have rolled up their sleeves to tackle the persistent challenges facing black men and boys in our society. Between 2008 and 2011, for example, 191 foundations made nearly 900 grants totaling $116 million to more than 400 organizations focused on black men and boys, with nearly 10 percent of the total coming from the Detroit-based Skillman Foundation, a hard-working and innovative foundation more people should know about.

The data cited above comes from www.bmafunders.org, a knowledge hub produced by Foundation Center (with support from the Open Society Foundations) that is dedicated to the work of America's foundations and their partners on black male achievement. Foundation Center is not an advocacy organization, and we do not try to tell foundations what to do. It is our hope, however, that by making information about what foundations are doing — especially with respect to tough, urgent issues like this one — more donors with an interest in such issues will realize they are not alone.

To devote one's foundation to ameliorating the challenges faced by black men and boys — challenges at the intersection of race, poverty, and justice in America — requires leadership. Indeed, I can think of no better expression of the kind of leadership required than this:

"I think [foundations] are entering into the most difficult of all fields....They are going right straight ahead, knowing that their fingers will be burned again, because in these fields you cannot be sure of your results, and you cannot be sure that you will avoid risk. If the boundaries of knowledge are pushed back and back and back so that our ignorance of ourselves and our fellow man and of other nations is steadily reduced, there is hope for mankind, and unless those boundaries are pushed back there is no hope."

No, that wasn't said by someone last night as portions of Ferguson again were choked by tear gas. Those are the words of Russell Leffingwell, a stalwart Republican banker and chair of the Carnegie Corporation, giving testimony in a McCarthy-era hearing on philanthropy. They were courageous words spoken under duress back then, and they haven't lost any of their relevance in the ensuing half-century.

Does philanthropy have the courage to tackle the persistent, troubling problems that Ferguson represents, to enter, in Leffingwell's words, the "most difficult of all fields?" A number of foundations are leading the way, but we can do more.

Bradford K. Smith is president of Foundation Center.

Funding to Strengthen Democracy Is Critical to Long-Term Foundation Success

November 08, 2014

Ruth_holton_hodson_for_PhilanTopicMany in the progressive foundation community are wondering how the results of the midterm elections will affect their funding areas, be it health, education, the environment, income inequality, or civil rights. What will become of our hard work to move a progressive agenda forward? How far will that agenda be set back? Let me suggest one area that has an impact on every one of the issues progressives hold dear, an area that could sorely use some funding — the public's understanding of and participation in our democracy.

Contrary to what many have said, the midterm elections weren't determined by the vast sums spent (mostly) on negative campaign ads (though, of course, money played a role in the outcome). They were determined by people who made their way to a polling place and cast a ballot — the most sacred act in the democratic canon. It's simple. Who votes determines what government looks like, the policies it pursues, which programs are funded or are cut, which regulations are written or are dropped. Who votes is a critical factor in determining who is appointed to the Supreme Court and who heads the Environmental Protection Agency and the departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services. In other words, who votes determines whether our elected officials will or won't champion a progressive agenda. What does that mean for foundations with missions focused on social justice, health and welfare, and education? It means that they are unlikely to realize their long-term goals of a better and more just society without also supporting efforts to strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy.

Take a moment and reflect on whether your foundation has ever considered supporting organizations working to ensure that young people, low-income people, people of color — people in society who are marginalized and stand to benefit the most from implementation of a progressive agenda — vote. I'd wager that more than a few foundations don't or won't because, as the saying goes, "That's not our issue." That's like a homeowner who decides to paint over serious cracks in her ceilings and walls without bothering to fix the problem in the basement that's causing the cracks. Our democratic infrastructure is in serious need of fixing, and the more it deteriorates, the harder it will be for progressive-minded foundations to achieve their agendas and the more money they will end up spending on short-term fixes.

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Profiles in Compassion: Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe

October 13, 2014

Headshot_sister-rosemary-nyirumbeRecently, I attended a screening of the documentary "Sewing Hope," an hour-long film about the efforts of Sister Rosemary Niyurumbe, a Catholic nun living in Uganda, to help girls and young women abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army, the cult-like militia led by Joseph Kony that was the subject of the viral "Invisible Children" campaign in 2012.

Narrated by the actor Forrest Whitaker, the film grabs you from the first frame. In harrowing detail, it describes how girls from rural villages were abducted from their homes and forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence against their own family members in order to prove their loyalty to the LRA. Many of the girls were raped and tortured, with Kony himself responsible for dozens if not hundreds of rapes, and many became pregnant and ended up bearing children. Girls that were able to escape often found themselves ostracized by family members and friends who viewed them as damaged goods.

Hearing about these girls, Sister Rosemary, the director since 2001 of the Saint Monica's Girls Tailoring Center in Gulu, Uganda, and one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People for 2014, realized she had to do something. Before long, she had opened doors of the center to as many of these girls as she could find and set about teaching them how to sew and make dresses, handbags, and other goods, imparting skills that can help them provide for themselves and secure a desperately needed measure of independence. Displaced children were placed in school and given a new lease on life, away from the horrors of Kony's atrocities.

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Weekend Link Roundup (October 4-5, 2014)

October 05, 2014

Harvest2008Our weekly roundup of noteworthy items from and about the nonprofit sector....

Current Affairs

The New York Times has an excellent Q&A, complete with timelines, maps, and links to other resources, on the Ebola outbreak in West Africa -- and the chances of the virus gaining a toehold and spreading in the U.S. 

And the Washington Post has a disturbing, deeply reported story about the failure of the world's health organizations to respond to the outbreak in a timely and effective fashion.

Environment

According to an item in Al Jazeera America, a new report finds that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles fell 52 percent between 1970 and 2010, far faster than previously thought. Based on the World Wildlife Fund's bi-annual "Living Planet" survey, the report also found that earth has crossed three (out of nine) "planetary boundaries" — biodiversity, carbon dioxide levels, and nitrogen pollution from fertilizers — beyond which lie "potentially catastrophic changes to life as we know it."

Innovation

Nell Edgington has a nice roundup of social innovation reads from September, including posts by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund's Ira Hirschfield, the Hewlett Foundation's Daniel Stid, and Carly Pippin of Measuring Success.

Nonprofits

In a post on the GuideStar blog, Jacob Harold, the organization's president/CEO, revisits the Lake Washington Declaration, a set of principles that informs an emerging movement aimed at building "a data-driven information infrastructure that provides all actors in the social sector with the insight they need to inform their decisions."

On his Nonprofit Management blog, Eugene Fram shares some excellent tips for boards looking to onboard a new chief executive.

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How Philanthropy Can Help Unaccompanied Child Refugees Now

August 13, 2014

Headshot_daranee_petsodTen-year-old Lucinda sits alone in a courtroom awaiting her fate. In front of her is a judge who will decide whether she is deported to her native Honduras. At the opposite table sits an experienced attorney advocating for her deportation. Her case will be argued in English, a language she does not speak. No one sits beside her.

Lucinda does not have an attorney. She does not have anyone to testify to the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her caregiver in Honduras, or to the psychological impact of that trauma and the ordeal she endured during her perilous journey to the United States. She has no expert witness to describe the non-existent child protection system or the rampant violence against women and girls in her home country. The burden of proof for her asylum claim rests entirely on her ten-year-old shoulders.

Driven by violence in Central America and Mexico, an increasing number of children like Lucinda are seeking refuge in the United States. Between 80,000 and 120,000 children are expected to arrive in 2014 alone, up from 6,000 in 2011. A growing number of these new arrivals are children fleeing some of the world’s most dangerous countries — the murder rates in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador rank among the highest in the world; these are countries where it is not uncommon for gang violence to claim even the youngest lives. Many of these children have endured unspeakable forms of trauma on their journey north, and in immigration courts across the country, thousands of them — some as young as four and five — are appearing without legal representation.

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World Cup Soccer, World-Class Philanthropy

July 11, 2014

2014-world-cup-logoAnn Coulter may hate soccer, but America's philanthropic foundations love it. For those who missed it, a recent nativist diatribe by Coulter claims that only immigrants care about the sport and that "No American whose great grandfather was born here is watching soccer." Foundations don't seem to have paid any attention to her critique, much less that of the Russian priest who, citing the brightly colored shoes worn by many soccer players, labeled the World Cup competition "a homosexual abomination."

A quick search of Foundation Directory Online found that some 80 foundations have made 2,000 soccer-related grants, the vast majority to U.S. organizations. They include a large grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation to support construction of a soccer stadium at Texas Tech. A smaller grant of $20,000 was awarded by the Philadelphia Foundation to the Association of Graduates of the United States Military Academy for the Army Men's Soccer Endowment. Many of the grants have a social purpose, like the Oregon Community Foundation's support for Adelante Mujeres, which uses soccer to improve the health and self-esteem of Latino girls in its programs, while here in the Northeast the Anderson Foundation made a $1.5 million program-related investment (a kind of low-cost loan) to the Players Development Academy in New Jersey for youth soccer promotion activities.

Some grants have been directly related to the World Cup itself. The Nike Foundation funded GlobalGirl Media to train South African girls to report on the 2010 World Cup in their country. And more recently, a Ford Foundation grant to a Brazilian organization supported in-depth reporting on the impact of stadium construction projects on the urban poor in advance of the 2014 World Cup.

Philanthropy is a global phenomenon with deep roots in the norms, values, and political culture of the United States.  America's foundations fund a wide range of issues, from the arts to zoology research and everything in between. Soccer is of interest to many foundations on account of its ability to attract national and global attention, spur economic development, provide opportunities for youth, and imbue in young people the values of tolerance and teamwork. And, as the Ford Foundation grant above demonstrates, foundations are not afraid to support critics of a mega-event like the World Cup when the business of global sport clashes with the rights of the poor.

Through the generosity of foundations, the lives of countless Americans have been touched by the sport known as soccer.  For two hours this Sunday, many of them will join a global community of some 600 million people that will be glued to their televisions for the World Cup final.  Philanthropy has helped make that possible.

– Brad Smith is president of Foundation Center. In his previous post, he wrote about soccer, democracy, and philanthropy.

Trust and Corruption

March 03, 2014

(Mark Rosenman is emeritus professor at Union Institute & University and a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. He lives in Washington, D.C., from where he drew many of the examples of the national problems cited below.)

Rosenman_headshotSelf-serving and dishonest actions in both the public and private sectors are severely testing the trust and confidence of Americans. That's a problem for government, for courts and the criminal justice system, for corporations and business leaders, and, yes, for the nonprofit sector.

It's a much more significant problem, however, for the larger society. Are we destined to slide further toward the pernicious levels of corruption so prevalent in other parts of the world? Can the already strained fabric of American society hold as growing numbers of public, private, and charity officials scramble to profit, legally and otherwise, from their positions? What happens when the fundamental American belief in fairness is undermined by declining confidence in the institutions we all rely on?

Make no mistake, confidence in our institutions is declining. Since the early 1970s, those of us who have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in our institutions, including banks, newspapers, and the medical establishment, has fallen dramatically – in some cases by more than 50 percent. Confidence in religion, the Supreme Court, schools, organized labor, and the presidency has fallen by 25 percent or more, while fewer than 25 percent of us have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in big business.

Charitable organizations don't fare so well, either. Following a precipitous drop more than ten years ago, a recent survey found that over a third of Americans have "not too much" or no confidence in nonprofits. Meanwhile, Congress's approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 10 percent.

Interestingly, the few institutions that have shown gains in public confidence include the military and the police and criminal justice system. But while the military is the most respected of American institutions, a series of recent incidents is beginning to take a toll. They include a scandal involving two Navy officers and a senior agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and a series of misconduct charges leveled at senior military officers for abusing their positions and accepting illegal gifts. His confidence shaken, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has demanded a broader investigation.

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'A Small Committed Minority of Believers'

February 18, 2014

(Shawn Dove is campaign manager for the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement. In a December 2012 Newsmaker interview with PND, he discussed the report Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys.)

Headshot_Shawn Dove_A generation ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted in Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community?, the last book he published before he was assassinated, that "it will take…a small committed minority [of believers] to work unrelentingly to win the uncommitted majority. Such a group may well transform America's greatest dilemma into her most glorious opportunity."

The great dilemma that King wrote about in 1967 still gnaws at the roots of a nation that was founded on a premise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness but was built on a foundation of racial and gender inequality. And while today no single group of people in America can claim that it alone is marginalized — sadly, there are many such groups — it is hard to dispute that disparities faced by black men and boys across a number of indicators, including incarceration, academic achievement, and unemployment, paint a picture of their systemic exclusion from the American mainstream.

The thorny issue of black men and their standing in American society is, of course, not a new one. Yet in light of recent advances in the emerging field of black male achievement, there is reason to hope that the small committed minority of believers who have been working hard to improve the life outcomes and perceptions of black men and boys are swaying the majority of non-believers.

By now, most people have heard that President Obama intends to launch a significant new effort "to bolster the lives of young men of color" in America. Building on momentum that has been growing over recent years, the public rollout of My Brother's Keeper, as the initiative is called, represents a bold response to the challenges confronting so many young men of color. Without a doubt, this is an historic moment for the work and aspirations of many leaders working within and outside philanthropy who have devoted their lives to creating an America where black men and boys can compete on an even playing field of opportunity and realize their full potential.

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Nonprofits Must Speak Out Against Poverty and Income Inequality

January 21, 2014

(Mark Rosenman, professor emeritus, Union Institute & University, is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In his previous post, he argued that the rush by many to embrace social impact bonds is another example of private profit crowding out a public good.)

Rosenman_headshotIn the battle to stem and reverse widening economic inequality in the United States, too many tax-exempt organizations are either missing from action or are part of the problem. While charities and foundations in general do much to help the poor and indigent, some organizations and institutions actually make the problem worse through their own compensation practices. At the same time, these organizations and others often go out of their way to disassociate themselves from policy debates on a host of related issues, from increasing the minimum wage to preserving government programs for needy families.

The good news is that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have started to pay more attention to poverty and economic inequality. Given the profound ideological differences between the parties, however, there is a great deal of disagreement about how government ought to address these problems and what kind of nonprofit programs it ought to support. Unfortunately, charities and foundations cannot truly serve the public interest unless they engage in these debates — today and into the future.

First, though, let's consider the deteriorating economic circumstances of many Americans. While most of the 15 percent of Americans living in poverty are children or adults who do not participate in the labor market, close to 1 in 4 of the 46.5 million people in the United States who are poor do work; that's 7 percent of the country's total workforce, and among other things it means the poverty rate today is as high as it has been since 1965.

What's more, income inequality in the U.S. has reached historic levels. Based on something called the Gini coefficient, the United States now ranks 32 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of inequality; in fact, we haven't seen these levels of inequality since the 1920s, just before the onset of the Great Depression.

It gets worse. In the three decades prior to 2010, the top 1 percent of Americans increased their share of the national income by 66 percent, while those at the bottom of the economic ladder actually lost ground. Meanwhile, 95 percent of income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, who now claim 22 percent of the national income, while the richest 5 percent of American households control more than 60 percent of the country's wealth.

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Fifty Years After the War on Poverty, Americans Want to Renew a National Commitment

January 20, 2014

(Deborah Weinstein is executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs, a partner in the Half in Ten campaign.)

Headshot_deborah_weinsteinIf your refrigerator is empty and you’re not sure when you’ll be eating your next meal, reflecting on the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty may not be your first priority. Unfortunately, a recent survey conducted by Half in Ten, an organization dedicated to cutting the poverty rate in America by 50 percent within ten years, finds that having trouble paying for necessities is a fact of life for at least a quarter of all Americans. And more than half of all Americans say that someone in their immediate or extended family is poor. For millions of struggling families, building a pathway out of poverty is an urgent matter.

Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, should share this sense of urgency. But wanting to do something about poverty isn't enough. We need to take a hard look at why poverty persists and what works to reduce it. At a time when people increasingly are aware of growing inequality and hardship in America, the fiftieth anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's speech launching the War on Poverty is a good opportunity to do so. In the survey conducted by Half in Ten, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they believe poverty stems from jobs that do not pay enough and/or from lack of education and health care, while only one in four ascribed poverty to bad personal choices or irresponsibility. Many see — in their own lives or in the experiences of friends and relatives — that the economy is failing to provide people with opportunities to move up, let alone support a family. They are correct. According to a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, in the three years after the "official" end of the Great Recession, 99 percent of Americans saw their incomes grow by less than 1 percent, while income for the richest 1 percent rose 31 percent. Yes, the economy has grown since the recession, but most Americans are not sharing in the gains.

What's more, an overwhelming majority of Americans (86 percent) agree that government has a responsibility to take action to reduce poverty, while at least eight in ten survey respondents support expanded nutrition assistance, affordable quality child care, universal pre-K education, and raising the minimum wage as steps toward that goal. The War on Poverty introduced many initiatives in these areas that did help to reduce poverty in America. Over a period of four years, LBJ and his team managed to push a stunningly comprehensive package of legislation through Congress, creating the food stamp program, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, college affordability programs, job training, housing, and civil rights laws, as well as increasing Social Security benefits. Indeed, a recent Columbia University study shows that when income from food stamps and low-income tax credits is included in poverty calculations, the U.S. poverty rate declined from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. Similarly, a long-term look at Head Start program participants found they were more likely to finish high school and less likely to turn to crime than low-income children who didn’t participate in Head Start.

Thanks to Johnson's War on Poverty, the official poverty rate in America was cut in half over little more than a decade, bottoming out at 11.1 percent in 1973. Then it began to rise again. Some in Congress who oppose spending federal dollars on programs for the poor point to today's unacceptably high poverty rate to argue that the War on Poverty failed. That is not true. Substantial progress was made, but it wasn't enough to overcome the changes that have transformed the American economy over the last thirty years.

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[Video] 'Apple Forecast: Immigration Reform'

December 28, 2013

Kathryn Pyle, one of our favorite PhilanTopic contributors, also is an acomplished documentary filmmaker. Her latest effort, a very short documentary titled Apple Forecast: Immigration Reform, "gives voice," in Kathryn's words, to small farmers who say our immigration system is hurting their business.

You can watch the film in its entirety below. It's also being hosted on the Web by the Francisan Action Network, where you can read a statements about the film by Kathryn and FAN executive director Patrick Carolan.

(Running time: 4:97)

To read more of Kathryn's posts for PhilanTopic, click here.

Have a thought or opinion about the doc or our immigration system? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

Most Popular PhilanTopic Posts (October 2013)

November 01, 2013

A shutdown of the federal government that lasted sixteen days, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, a well-deserved (!) Red Sox win in the World Series -- October was nothing if not eventful. And now that it's history, it's time to look back at the most popular posts on PhilanTopic during the month:

What have you been reading/watching/listening to that PhilanTopic readers should know about? Share your favorites in the comments section....

When Government Shuts Down, the Nonprofit Community Pays

October 04, 2013

(Tim Delaney is president and CEO of the National Council of Nonprofits, which, as the hub of the nation's largest network of charitable nonprofits, serves as a central coordinator and mobilizer, helping nonprofits by identifying emerging trends, sharing proven practices, and promoting solutions that benefit charitable nonprofits and the communities they serve.)

Headshot_tim_delaneyThe federal government shutdown is more than just a symbol of political dysfunction. Real people are being hurt. And charitable nonprofits and foundations are unfairly being asked to subsidize government even more than usual while the government is closed.

Community and human needs do not stop just because the federal government has stopped functioning. Indeed, the shutdown has actually increased the needs of millions of Americans. That's why when politicians shut the doors of government, charitable nonprofits struggle even more than usual to meet the needs of their constituents.

Increased Public Needs Transferred to Nonprofits

The government shutdown means there is no federal money to pay for essential programs. Many federally funded, community-based programs that provide food for infants, children, veterans, and seniors, such as WIC (Women, Infant, and Children Supplemental Nutrition) and Meals on Wheels, report having only enough resources to continue operating for a few more days. At least twenty-three Head Start programs in eleven states have already run out of money, leaving children without access to vital educational programs and their parents scrambling for options. Similarly, people who could be applying for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans' benefits, or other essential programs -- all of which have been idled during the shutdown -- turn to charities for help.

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Labor Day Weekend Link Roundup (September 1-2, 2013)

September 01, 2013

Laborday2013A special holiday weekend roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Rights

On its NOW blog, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom with a look at the persistant disparities in employment, educational achievement, and upward mobility between Afrian Americans and whites as illustrarted by several recently released reports.

Before the fiftieth anniversary becomes a footnote, be sure to take a look at the ten-part Washington Monthly series on race in America that we re-posted here on PhilanTopic in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's events.

Communications/Marketing

From the folks at Optimind Technology, here's a great infographic with thirty digital marketing statistics you can't afford to ignore.

Impact/Effectiveness

Writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, William Burckart, managing director of Impact Economy's North America unit and a contributing author to the forthcoming New Frontiers of Philanthropy (Lester M. Salamon, ed., Oxford University Press), argues that impact investing, one of the buzziest memes in philanthropy at the moment, "is not well understood outside of a relatively small group of early adopters, and even this band of innovators harbors multiple, sometimes-incompatible interpretations of the concept." What's more, writes Burckart, although this "form of foundation investing has long been approved by government regulators," outside of a handful of foundations -- Ford, F.B. Heron, Kellogg, Mary Reynolds Babcock, K.L. Felicitas -- "it is an idea that has never gotten much traction."

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Reconstruction Deconstruction

August 09, 2013

On August 28, 1963, America witnessed what was arguably the greatest demonstration for racial justice in the history of the country. Half a century after the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the looming question of racial equality in America remains.

In the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, PhilanTopic is publishing a ten-part series, sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, in which some of America's most important writers explore our race issues, past and present.

In the fifth installment of that series (click here for the fourth, "The Next Affirmative Action," by Kevin Carey), Nicholas Lemann, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the author of Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, argues that the tumultuous decade that followed the Civil War failed to enshrine black voting and civil rights and instead paved the way for more than a century of entrenched racial injustice.The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Reconstruction_illustrationChildren in elementary school often come home with the idea that the purpose of the Civil War was to end slavery -- but if that were true, then why did it take Abraham Lincoln so long to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, and why was it less than universally popular in the Union states? If you see the movie Lincoln, you get a much fuller picture of the contingency of emancipation, and of the difficulty of passing the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery completely -- but why didn't Lincoln and the Congress think to address at the same time the obvious question of what status the freed slaves would have after that? After Lincoln's assassination, Congress and the state governments settled that matter by passing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave the former slaves full civil rights and voting rights -- but why was it necessary for exactly the same rights to be reenacted, after enormous struggle, nearly a century later, during the civil rights era?

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