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121 posts categorized "Human/Civil Rights"

'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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South Africa Sets Example for World but Still Has Work to Do

February 10, 2014

(Achmat Dangor is the Ford Foundation’s representative for Southern Africa in Johannesburg. Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation. This  op-ed originally appeared in Business Day, a national daily newspaper based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is reprinted here with permission of the Ford Foundation. )

FordFdn_logoIn 2004, a decade into South Africa's extraordinary experiment with democratic government, Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminded us that we could "kiss reconciliation and forgiveness goodbye unless the gap between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, is narrowed."

Today, ten years on, Tutu's words ring truer than ever.

For all of South Africa's astounding progress, inequality is still the single greatest impediment on the long walk to freedom — for inequality stands between the promise of democracy and the achievement of justice. That inequality is undemocratic is a basic truth that applies not just here, but in democratic nations around the world.

As supporters and champions of South Africa, we at the Ford Foundation have marvelled at its social and economic advances.

Since apartheid's abolition, the percentage of people living on less than $2 a day has been halved. Clean water and electricity, harbingers of economic development, are spreading. Illiteracy is on the decline.

And yet, while the lives of South Africa's poorest have improved a great deal, they haven't improved relative to the wealthiest.

The International Monetary Fund tells us that half of the country's total income goes to the top 10 percent of earners, while the bottom 20 percent of earners take in only 2.7 percent of national income.

Simply put, South Africa is one of the most unequal countries in the world — in spite of the fact that its constitution is the world's most democratic.

How do we address this paradox?

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For the Success of Boys and Men of Color, A Call to Action

January 29, 2014

(Kenneth H. Zimmerman is director of U.S. programs for the Open Society Foundations. This post was first published on Open Society's Voices blog.)

Headshot_Ken_ZimmermanIn this year's State of the Union address, President Obama opened the door to an opportunity that may be a game changer for millions of boys and men of color in America.

In his speech, President Obama said he believes in the fundamental importance of transforming the lives of young men and boys of color and is committed to bolstering and reinforcing government and private partnerships to work on the issue.

We welcome and are heartened by the president's commitment and recognition that a key part of the effort to increase opportunity for all Americans, regardless of race and gender, is to focus explicitly on helping boys and men of color succeed.

Young men of color face systemic economic, social, and political barriers in their everyday lives. As a result, too many of them are denied educational opportunity, become unemployed, or, worse, face incarceration.

In spite of these barriers, we see men and boys of color overcome the odds on a regular basis —graduating at the top of their classes, achieving leadership positions in corporations, becoming business owners, and being wonderful fathers to their families and valuable members of their communities. They are vital assets to our country, and investing in pathways to build opportunity for them will deliver significant economic and civic benefits to the nation as a whole.

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Newsmakers: Darren Walker, President, Ford Foundation

December 18, 2013

Headshot_darren_walkerIn September, Darren Walker became the tenth president of the Ford Foundation. Before coming to Ford, where he was vice president of the foundation's Education, Creativity, and Freedom of Expression program, Walker served as vice president for foundation initiatives at the Rockefeller Foundation and as chief operating officer of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he guided the organization's efforts to develop housing for low and moderate-income families in Harlem.

Recently, Michael Seltzer, a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic, spoke with Walker about the current social change environment, the influence of the foundation's activities on his life, and his hopes for the foundation going forward. Seltzer is a distinguished lecturer at the Baruch College School of Public Affairs and an affiliated faculty member of its Center for Nonprofit Strategy & Management.

Philanthropy News Digest: What is it like to be president of the Ford Foundation?

Darren Walker: Although I've been at the foundation for more than three years, in many ways I still have a lot to learn. I certainly didn't arrive here with any idea I would end up as president. When I walked through the doors of this institution for the first time, it was a transformational experience, because the Ford Foundation represents the ways in which my own life has been changed by philanthropy.

I'm a graduate of public schools. I attended public school in a small town in Texas, and I am also a graduate of the first Head Start cohort, a program that was developed out of Ford Foundation-supported research on early child development at Yale University. After high school, I attended a large land grant university -- thanks to Pell grants, another Ford Foundation-supported intervention -- so I know all about Ford's commitment to public education in this country.

After college, I worked on Wall Street and one day found myself at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, which was hosting a representative of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a creation of -- you guessed it -- the Ford Foundation. LISC had awarded a grant to the Abyssinian Development Corporation for capacity-building initiatives that would allow it to realize the aspirations of the organization's founders, who had a dream in the mid-'80s that Harlem could be a community that could regenerate itself from within. And the Ford Foundation, through LISC, believed in that dream and invested in it. And that capacity-building grant made it possible for ADC to hire me. So my journey, like the journeys of so many others, has been deeply influenced by the Ford Foundation.

I was thrilled to receive a call from the foundation's board chair, Irene Hirano-Inouye, and have her tell me that the board had voted to appoint me president. Actually, I wasn't sure how to respond, beyond saying, "Yes!" because I know that with this job comes huge responsibility, and that I stand on the shoulders of some extraordinary people.

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Weekend Link Roundup (December 7-8, 2013)

December 08, 2013

Headshot_nelson_mandelaOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Society

In an op-ed in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, Diana Aviv, chief executive of Independent Sector, and Gary Bass, executive director of the Bauman Foundation, argue that a recent proposal from the IRS aimed at clarifying federal rules on nonprofit political activity, while well intentioned, "is flawed in so many ways that it will undermine one of the key ways through which nonprofits do their work: helping Americans understand major issues in elections and encouraging them to register to vote and cast ballots."

A thought-provoking post (and set of comments in response) by Daniel Stid on the Hewlett Foundation's new Work in Progress blog about philanthropy's role in "curing the mischief of faction." The post introduces a new Hewlett initiative to address "political polarization [in Washington] and its three most notable markers: increasing ideological coherence within and divergence between the Republican and Democratic parties, hyper-partisanship, and gridlock." The goal, writes Stid, is not to forge a "national consensus or centrist agenda that will somehow span and resolve the multiple points of disagreement that separate our parties and their affiliated coalitions." Rather, the foundation hopes, "to help make it possible for the representative institutions of the federal government to solve problems in ways that most Americans will accept and support."

Education

In The Atlantic, Alexander Russo has a roundup of the most notable education stories of 2013, including Teach for America becoming (even more of) a lightning rod; school closings in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit; and the backlash against the Common Core.

Using Pope Francis' recent comments about capitalism and income inequality as a point of departure, Kaisa Snellman, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, argues in a post on the Harvard Business Review blog that while mobility statistics from the United States are grim, "the future looks even grimmer....For the last two years," writes Snellman, "my collaborators and I have been studying growing class gaps in various precursors of life success. And the findings are alarming. The children of college-educated parents and those of less-educated parents are raised in very different ways and are launched on very different trajectories in life...."

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Nelson Mandela, July 18, 1918 - December 5, 2013

December 06, 2013

PND joins with millions of people around the globe in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela, a towering figure of the twentieth century. Thanks in part to his heroic example, our is a more peaceful and just world. May he always live in our collective memory.


Mandela_tribute

The Nelson Mandela foundation is collecting messages of condolence from the global community. To send a message, visit www.nelsonmandela.org/.

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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Lincoln Died for Our Sins

August 26, 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 ninth installment of that series (click here for the eighth, "The New White Negro," by Isabell Sawhill), Jelani Cobb, director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut and author of The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress, examines the themes that, over the last century and a half, have made our sixteenth president "a Rorschach test of sorts" and how those themes are bound to and illuminate questions of racial reconciliation and progress in America. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Lincoln_MemorialThe opening scene of Steven Spielberg's cinemythic portrait of the sixteenth president features President Abraham Lincoln seated on a stage, half cloaked in darkness, and observing the Union forces he is sending into battle. It's an apt metaphor for the man himself -- both visible and obscure, inside the tempest yet somehow above the fray. Lincoln was released in early November 2012, just in time to shape our discussions of January 1, 2013, the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet with its themes of redemption and sacrifice, Spielberg's film could seem less suited for an anniversary celebration than an annual one. Here is a vision of a lone man, tested by betrayal, besieged by enemies whom he regards without malice, a man who is killed for his convictions only to be resurrected as a moral exemplar. Spielberg's Lincoln is perhaps less fitted to January 1 than it is to the holiday that precedes it by a week.

In fairness, this narrative of Lincoln's Civil War, equal parts cavalry and Calvary, did not originate with Spielberg. The legend of the Great Emancipator began even as Lincoln lay dying in a boarding house across from Ford's Theater that night in April 1865. (In the same way that JFK's mythic standing as a civil rights stalwart was born at Dealey Plaza in November 1963.) In the wake of his assassination, Lincoln the controversial and beleaguered president was remade into Lincoln the Savior, an American Christ-figure who carried the nation's sins. Pulling off this transformation, this historical alchemy, has required that we as a nation redact the messier parts of Lincoln's story in favor of an untainted, morally unconflicted commander-in-chief who was untouched by the biases of the day and unyielding in his opposition to slavery. We have little use for tainted Christs. Through Lincoln, the Union was "saved" in more than one sense of the word.

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The New White Negro

August 24, 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 eighth installment of that series (click here for the seventh, "Prison's Dilemma," by Glenn C. Loury), Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of many books on the economy, most recently Creating an Opportunity Society, examines the role of race and class in the breakdown of family formation among lower-income American families over the last fifty years. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_isabel_sawhillIn 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a controversial report written for his then boss, President Lyndon Johnson. Entitled "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action" (76 pages, PDF), it described the condition of lower-income African American families and catalyzed a highly acrimonious, decades-long debate about black culture and family values in America.

The report cited a series of staggering statistics showing high rates of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood among black families. "The white family has achieved a high degree of stability and is maintaining that stability," the report said. "By contrast, the family structure of lower class Negroes is highly unstable, and in many urban centers is approaching complete breakdown."

Nearly fifty years later, the picture is even more grim -- and the statistics can no longer be organized neatly by race. In fact, Moynihan's bracing profile of the collapsing black family in the 1960s looks remarkably similar to a profile of the average white family today. White households have similar -- or worse -- statistics of divorce, unwed childbearing, and single motherhood as the black households cited by Moynihan in his report. In 2000, the percentage of white children living with a single parent was identical to the percentage of black children living with a single parent in 1960: 22 percent.

What was happening to black families in the '60s can be reinterpreted today not as an indictment of the black family but as a harbinger of a larger collapse of traditional living arrangements -- of what demographer Samuel Preston, in words that Moynihan later repeated, called "the earthquake that shuddered through the American family."

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Philanthropy and the Open Society: A Q&A With Christopher Stone, President, Open Society Foundations

August 22, 2013

Headshot_christopher_stone"George Soros once told a group of people he and I were speaking to that my appointment signaled no change in the Open Society Foundations, because change had been a constant since OSF's birth and would continue into the foreseeable future," said Christopher Stone when we spoke to him earlier this year.  "And that certainly applies to our funding priorities."

Since Stone joined the Open Society Foundations as president in 2012, many have wondered how, if at all, the change in leadership might affect the global network of philanthropies started and funded by Soros, the hedge fund billionaire. After all, Stone succeeded Open Society's founding president, Aryeh Neier, a former executive director of Human Rights Watch, national director of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a close Soros friend who led the foundation for nearly twenty years, helping "to make...[it] into a truly international organization." With foundations in dozens of countries around the world, it was unclear -- and concerning to some -- how Stone intended to "streamline" what Soros previously had described in an interview with the New York Times as "a very complex organization." But, as Stone told us when we spoke with him, what Soros was alluding to was nothing more than new ways of organizing the Foundations' work so that it could "achieve more with each grant, program, and strategy."

Before joining Open Society, Stone served as Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations. Prior to that, he served as director of the Vera Institute of Justice, founded the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and served as a founding director of the New York State's Capital Defender Office and the Altus Global Alliance.

PND spoke with Stone in May and followed up with him via e-mail earlier this month.

Philanthropy News Digest: You were once described by Open Society founder George Soros as an "outsider insider." What did he mean?

Christopher Stone: I think he meant that I've been associated with the Open Society Foundations since the 1990s, but I haven't truly been inside the organization. I've been an advisory board member of the Open Society Justice Initiative since 2004 and an occasional advisor and grantee of the organization since the Open Society Institute was created in 1993. But I've been outside the organization in the sense that I haven't worked directly for Open Society, and I haven't been on any of its governing boards, until now. I can appreciate the organization and understand its history, but I don't have the commitments and am not wedded to any particular elements of the foundations that George Soros, I think, is hoping we will be reviewing over this transition.

PND: What has your varied experience taught you about the potential and limits of philanthropy?

CS: Over the years, I've known a number of foundation presidents and worked with many foundations, occasionally as an informal advisor and mostly as a grantee. Among other things, I've learned that, like other fields, the philanthropic sector is all about relationships; that foundations vary tremendously from one to another; and that they are really dependent in all sorts of ways on their grantees. Not just to execute the projects they support, but to help define and inform their sense of the field. Foundations work hard at getting outside opinions and observations. But it's a hard thing to do, and I think the mutual dependence of foundations on grantees, and grantees on foundations, is not as obvious to a lot of people who assume that the grantee is a supplicant and the foundation has all the cards.

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Prison's Dilemma

August 21, 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 seventh installment of that series (click here for the sixth, "A Dedicated Life: Shirley Sherrod's Ongoing Battle for Racial Cooperation in Georgia," by Ryan Cooper), Glenn C. Loury, the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University, explains how America's overreliance on incarceration adversely affects African Americans and exacerbates existing racial and class inequalities. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_glenn_louryOver the past four decades, the United States has become a punitive nation without historical precedent or international parallel. With roughly 5 percent of the world's population, the U.S. currently confines about one-quarter of the world's prison inmates. In 2008,one in a hundred American adults was behind bars. Just what manner of people does our prison policy reveal us to be?

America, with great armies deployed abroad under a banner of freedom, nevertheless harbors the largest infrastructure for the mass deprivation of liberty on the planet. We imprison nearly as great a fraction of our population to a lifetime in jail (around seventy people for every hundred thousand residents) as Sweden, Denmark, and Norway imprison for any duration whatsoever.

That America's prisoners are mainly minorities, particularly African Americans, who come from the most disadvantaged corners of our unequal society, cannot be ignored. In 2006, one in nine black men between the ages of twenty and thirty-four was serving time. The role of race in this drama is subtle and important, and the racial breakdown is not incidental: prisons both reflect and exacerbate existing racial and class inequalities.

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5 Questions for...Charles Bailey, Director, Agent Orange in Vietnam Program

August 19, 2013

Headshot_charles_baileyFrom 1997 to 2007, Charles Bailey was the Ford Foundation representative in Vietnam. At the start of his posting, the war in Vietnam had been over for more than twenty years, but one of its legacies, environmental contamination caused by the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange, was an under-addressed concern. Bailey looked into the facts of Agent Orange use in the Southeast Asian country and began to develop a vocabulary that American and Vietnamese officials could use to discuss the issue. After a few years, Ford invited the Aspen Institute, which has expertise in facilitating difficult conversations, to initiate a dialogue around the issue, and the two governments began to talk. Eventually, the United Nations, other NGOs and foundations, and several European governments joined the conversation.

But one thing was missing, says Bailey, and that was a way to connect the American public to the effort. With his encouragement, Active Voice, a social documentary shop in San Francisco, put together a three-minute public-service video, "Make Agent Orange History," while San Francisco State University contributed fresh reporting to the discussion through its Vietnam Reporting Project. In 2011, Bailey moved to the Aspen Institute, where he continues to support dialogue, advocacy, and public education around the issue.

Recently, PND spoke with Bailey about the Agent Orange program and what remains to be done.

Philanthropy News Digest: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently met with President Obama in Washington, D.C. Why was the meeting significant?

Charles Bailey: President Sang is the second Vietnamese head-of-state to visit the U.S. since the two countries normalized relations in 1995, and his visit was an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable progress made since 2007 in at last addressing the legacy of Agent Orange. Over the last six years, our Agent Orange in Vietnam Program has had a hand in raising over $100 million to assist Vietnam to begin to deal with this legacy from the U.S.-Vietnam War. Even more important for the future, President Obama and President Sang issued a joint statement at the end of their talks on July 26 that contained a key statement: "The president reaffirmed the United States' commitment to providing further medical and other care and assistance for people with disabilities, regardless of cause."

I published an op-ed in the Huffington Post on the occasion urging both presidents to take advantage of this breakthrough and include language on disability services and rights as part of a new comprehensive partnership agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam.

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Weekend Link Roundup (August 17-18, 2013)

August 18, 2013

SandcastleOur weekly roundup of new and noteworthy posts from and about the nonprofit sector....

Civil Rights

On the Library of Congress blog, Erin Allen chats with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one of the leaders of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, about the fiftieth anniversary of the march.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Peter Buffett's op-ed about the "charitable-industrial complex" in the New York Times a few weeks back continues to generate comment -- supportive (here, here, here, and here) and critical (here, here, here, and here). Writing on the Huff Post business blog, Margaret Coady, executive director of CECP (formerly the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy), characterizes Buffett's musings as "a mix of insightful and simplistic observations," while applauding his warning not to confuse prosperity with "the blind accumulation of material goods." The good news, adds Coady,

is that CEOs of large multinational companies are working on a version of Buffett's challenge. In other words: the very individuals heading up "the industrial complex" assumed by many to be 'the bad guys' are, in their way, laser focused on creating greater prosperity for all.

Don't mistake me. These CEOs are obsessive about bottom-line growth -- which depends on consumerism. But they are awakening to benefits of replacing "quarterly capitalism" (which has led many companies to disregard their negative social and environmental externalities) with "long-term capitalism" (which takes greater responsibility for the effect the company has on the world). Increasingly, these CEOs are committing to sustainable, investor-friendly alternatives to a zero-sum version of capitalism. That doesn't fully meet Peter Buffet's goal, but I'd argue that it is meaningful progress....

Data

It's a widely accepted truism that the era of open data is upon us. But not all data is created equal, and its use, like so many things, is subject to abuse. Writing on the Markets for Good blog, Andy Isaacson, an engineer at Palantir Technologies, argues that with "[open] data comes great responsibility, both to make the information usable, and also to protect the privacy and civil liberties of the people involved." The goal, he adds, "is, or should be, about the democratization of data, allowing anybody on the web to extract, synthesize, and build from raw materials -- and effect change."

Beth Kanter has a useful post on the top ten chart secrets of data nerds.

And while we're on the subject, do you know the seven deadly sins of data analysis? The Whole Whale does, and they include: Pride ("thinking you know better than the data"), Sloth ("being lazy and only analyzing one metric"), and Gluttony ('converting too many data into too many dashboards").

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A Dedicated Life: Shirley Sherrod's Ongoing Battle for Racial Cooperation in Georgia

August 16, 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 sixth installment of that series (click here for the fifth, "Deconstructing Reconstruction," by Nicholas Lemann), Ryan Cooper, the Web editor at Washington Monthly, checks in with Shirley Sherrod, a former USDA state director of rural development for Georgia, who was fired after remarks she made at an NAACP banquet were intentionally misrepresented by conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart. The essay below first appeared in the Washington Monthly and is reprinted here with the permission of that publication.

Headshot_shirley_sherrodAlmost three years ago, in late March 2010, Shirley Sherrod, who was then the USDA state director of rural development for Georgia, gave a forthright speech about her life story at an NAACP banquet. She told of how a white sheriff had lynched her cousin in 1943, how her father was killed by a white neighbor who went uncharged despite three witnesses, and how after her father's death she dedicated herself to staying in Georgia to work for change. Initially, she said, her commitment was limited to the black community, but in 1985 her mind was changed.

That year, while Sherrod was working for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a nonprofit helping black farmers hang on to their land, Roger Spooner, a white farmer in danger of foreclosure, approached her for help. She took Spooner to a white lawyer, assuming that one of his "own kind would take care of him." But when she discovered that the lawyer would do nothing for him, she did what she could instead. Eventually, she helped Spooner keep his farm. This was a lesson from God, Sherrod said during her NAACP speech, to teach her that it's not all about black and white, but about poverty also. "Working with him made me see that it's really about those who have versus those who don't," she said.

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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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