ASALH Presentation October 2018

Here is the text of my presentation at the ASALH Conference in October 2018 in Indianapolis:

“Pride has not taken the dude off the street but has brought the street with him. Imaginative use of the equation of an economic development thrust hooked to a manpower base, provides financial independence and social dignity in addition to black ownership.

“We are doing it while others think and talk, while Blue Ribbon Commissions, “Ghetto” Specialists, and Urbanologists wearily theorize and grope in frustration. We innovate as we tread upon ground not trod upon before.


That’s a quote from a 1969 issue of Dig Your BLACK Self, one of the publications of a youth employment program in Washington, D.C. called Pride, Inc. “Dude” was the affectionate and respectful name they used for the type of young man that Pride was designed to help. Dudes lived in the poorest neighborhoods of the city, often had criminal records and were many times functionally illiterate, the ones considered “hard-core unemployed.” The guys none of the other War on Poverty programs could reach.

Despite the rhetoric, the Pride program was not as revolutionary as it may have seemed at first glance. The program was innovative in that it involved recognizing the dudes as change agents with the presumption that the dudes could be converted into successful black capitalists by teaching them skills and addressing the inferiority complex they had inherited from a racist, oppressive society. Pride did not seek to overturn the world of white bureaucracy, capitalism, and justice; its leaders believed that they could operate within these systems without succumbing their structural oppression. They rejected assumptions of black inferiority and criminality rampant in the analysis of experts but accepted the idea that structural inequality could be overcome through personal effort. The Pride programs attempted to marry the self-determination ideology of capitalism with the Black Power emphasis on connection to community, encouraging the dudes to use what they learned to improve the inner-city rather than escape it. What started as a month-long cleanup program meant to cool rising tensions in the summer of 1967 expanded to include an array of business ventures.

Marion Barry speaking into microphone. Boy with Pride, Inc. hat to his left
Marion Barry. Photo: Gerald Martineau/Washington Post

My research is the first attempt to place Pride within its appropriate historical context. Previously when Pride has been included in scholarship, it is presented within the context of the political career of one of its founders, Marion Barry. In these narratives, Pride is merely the vehicle through which Barry gains political power in D.C. The program’s development is interpreted through the lens of his later career and scandals. I argue that a better way to interpret Pride is not by what happened later but by what came before. Long before he was the “Mayor for Life,” Barry was a Civil Rights activists and the first chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC. When he came to lead the Washington field office of SNCC in 1965, he was soon drawn into the local issues of District residents. As Anne Valk has argued, Barry’s activism in Washington—which included a bus boycott, the “Free DC” campaign for home rule, and Pride—was an important component of SNCC’s emerging strategy “to articulate economic concerns as part of its racial liberation agenda, recognizing that racism and economic inequalities could not be separated in Washington, where pronounced disparities in poverty separated black and white residents.” Barry found that when he tried to get poor Washingtonians fired up about structural injustice, residents wanted his help with more immediate problems like housing and jobs, and his SNCC office didn’t have a program available to address those issues.

Image of newspaper article with photos of Clarence Brooker and Officer Rull
Washington Star article

One of the big problems that black Washingtonians endured was police brutality, something Barry himself had experienced after a violent arrest for jaywalking. On May 1, 1967, Clarence Brooker died after he was shot in the back over a bag of cookies. The resulting public outrage was exactly what local and federal officials did not want heading into summer—a catalytic event that could inflame tensions and lead to an uprising in the nation’s capital. One of Brooker’s friends Rufus Mayfield, nicknamed “Catfish” began leading protests and speaking out about Brooker’s murder. Marion Barry, who had recently left SNCC and had been trying to develop a program that would address the kinds of problems that black Washingtonians were facing, was impressed by Catfish’s charisma and natural leadership skills. The two teamed up: Barry taught Mayfield about organizing direct action campaigns and Mayfield introduced Barry to the inner-city youth and the community of the streets. Catfish taught Marion how to be a dude.

Mayfield surrounded by other young men and boys
AP Photo

Usually the origin story of Pride has included some version of an impromptu public showdown between Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz and Marion Barry with Barry inventing Pride on the fly when Wirtz challenges him to come up with a solution to youth unemployment. My research found evidence that in fact, Barry and Mayfield had been working for months to develop the program that became Pride, partnering with an official in the D.C. Office of Community Renewal, Carrol Harvey, who was a former dude himself. They had been trying to get funding for their idea through the existing anti-poverty agency in the city but its leaders were reluctant to sign on to the program’s signature feature: that it would be organized and led by the dudes. Wirtz, though, was a true believer in the idea of “maximum feasible participation” that was, at least on paper, a guiding principal of the War on Poverty programs. Wirtz was facing the last month of the hot summer of 1967 with no plan for how to keep simmering tensions cool as the existing summer jobs programs ran out, so he took a chance on Barry and Mayfield’s idea and provided funding for a 4-week trial run.

Pride workers dragging a mattress frame in vacant lot
Life Magazine

Pride is born. The dudes gained national attention for their massive effort to clean the streets of their neighborhoods. Their accomplishments were impressive. Pride successfully organized around one thousand fourteen- to eighteen-year-old boys in the “hard and dirty work” of clearing lots and cleaning up the streets, mostly in their own neighborhoods. They collected so much trash that the city had trouble providing enough trucks to haul it away. Impatient with the slow response of the city’s sanitation department, Pride workers broke into the lab where the municipal supply of rat poison was stored and mixed their own. Rather than chastise the boys, officials praised their enthusiasm. Their accomplishment of killing thousands of rodents throughout the city inspired the department to hire more workers in pest control. Pride had to turn job-seekers away, proving that the dudes wanted to work. The Pride model seems to work, at least in the short-term. The neighborhoods were looking better, the residents were impressed by the effort of the young men, and money is flowing into the poor communities. Life and Ebony Magazine ran articles, and CBS Evening News declared that Catfish, who had become the example of the reformed Pride dude, had the answer to the problems of poverty in the inner city. “It may be that this young man knows the real secret, holds the real key to spiritual equality, and is far ahead of most of the national Negro leadership.” Concerned about increasingly confrontational rhetoric from black leaders like Stokely Carmichael and even Dr. King, the white establishment liked the Pride vision better.  Poor black kids like Catfish can overcome the crushing problems of inadequate employment, housing, and education by cleaning up the slum. The problems of poverty and racism are solved!

Vice President Humphrey walking with Pride members on a city street
Photo courtesy of Destiny-Pride, Inc.

Politicians loved this message, too, and Catfish found himself in great demand for photo ops, including with the Vice President. The Department of Labor extended the grant to keep Pride going for a year. $2 million, or about $14 million in today’s dollars.

 Pride moved into a new headquarters at 16th and U Street and began to make long-term plans. 

Moving Forward

But running a multi-million-dollar anti-poverty program was a different situation that getting a bunch of kids to haul trash for a month. Changes were inevitable. Pride had enemies in Congress who were convinced that this program was accomplishing nothing but turning tax dollars over to criminals and were determined to shut it down. In this environment, Mayfield’s notoriety became a lightning rod for potential controversy.  He was also a symbol of the signature feature of the program that the older leaders had decided was not workable—control and decision-making by the dudes. Within a few months, Catfish resigned, and Marion Barry became the public face of Pride. The new organizational structure became “Dudes and Brass,” with top down control by Barry, Carroll Harvey, and a third founder, Mary Treadwell.

Then in April 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated and Washington, DC, like many other cities in the nation, erupts. Riots sweep through the neighborhoods where Pride operates for several days. Programs like Pride were funded to prevent just this kind of uprising. That could have been the end of the experiment. But the Pride leadership was already developing a new strategy and they were able to use the destruction as a catalyst for their expanding vision of black capitalism.

Burned car, foreground. Gas station and tank in background

I chose these photos from the Evening Star collection because they include a Pride-owned gas station, 

Police officer talks with Mayor Washington. Gas station in background

one of the for-profit businesses Pride developed to provide economic opportunity for the poor black community. 

 Using grant funding, and perhaps some creative bookkeeping, Pride bought a landscaping company, other service stations, and a number other commercial property. The plan was to use the non-profit Pride employment program to train young men in job skills, and then move them into for-profit businesses that would transform poor neighborhoods. They would create a network of black entrepreneurs. Through black leadership and black ownership, they hoped to overcome the crushing legacy of white supremacy and oppression. It was a concept that sounded particularly palatable to the new presidential administration as Nixon sought to dismantle Johnson’s War on Poverty programs. Pride continued to receive grants and to become a fixture in the Washington community through the 1970s.

Pride Landscaping & Gardening logo, dc1968 Project  

But there were some inherent problems with the concept. As Washington Post columnist William Raspberry pointed out, depending on the poor black community for the workforce, the capital investment, and the customer base for these businesses was a laudable dream that was likely to fall short of its goal. The neighborhoods that Pride planned to serve were low-income and woefully short of the kind of capital necessary to provide adequate investment without government assistance. There was another problem with the numbers, Raspberry noted. “Barry sees a system in which the lowliest grease monkey can work [his] way up to better and better jobs. This is a beautiful concept, but it requires both an endless supply of grease monkeys to feed in at the bottom and an ever-expanding chain of Pride businesses to place the thoroughly trained employees as they are pushed out at the top. Otherwise, there must certainly come a day when there is a good man at every position and no room …to move up.” The logistics of the Pride feeder system could only work if the Pride business empire kept expanding and the poor communities in which it operated somehow became much more prosperous than they had been historically. And although they dismissed the so-called experts and professionals in their publications, the Pride leaders found themselves lacking in the expertise and experience needed to both navigate the federal bureaucracy and develop successful businesses.

In the end, Pride was never able to break free from federal support and create economically independent businesses.

Apartment building

 The organization collapsed after an ill-fated attempt to run a large apartment complex, Clifton Terrace  which resulted in several convictions for fraud.

Marion Barry at podium raising hand in victory surrounded by a crowd
Photo: Ellsworth Davis/The Washington Post

 But Marion Barry moved into politics as limited home rule came to Washington in the 1970s. The principles of Pride lived on after he was elected mayor in the D.C. Summer Youth Program as well as in city contracts awarded to black-owned businesses.

And although Pride was never able to achieve the dream of a remade economic landscape run by the dudes, there were success stories. Including Hon. Gerald Lee, one of those Pride kids who went on to an impressive career as a federal judge. One of his law clerks, Justin Fairfax, was recently elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

In his 2009 survey of the existing Black Power scholarship, Peniel Joseph calls on historians to “take seriously unacknowledged and obscure strains of black activism,” particularly those stories that are difficult to pigeonhole into one specific area of study but instead reveal the connections between social, economic, and political movements. My research moves Pride out from under the shadow of Barry’s political career and places it within the context of the intersections of Great Society liberalism, Black Power self-determination, and black capitalism’s attempt to remake economic power dynamics. Re-situating the Pride effort to create employment opportunities for the most marginalized members of society, to remake the economy of the ghetto, within its proper historical context contributes to a fuller picture of the breadth of Black Power activism. Though it could not ultimately transform the structural inequality of the systems in which it operated, Pride made a difference in many young people’s lives and in the cultural life of Washington, accomplishments that should be recognized.

The Language of Pride

Pride, Inc. was born in the simmering summer of 1967, a year after Stokely Carmichael ushered in a profound a shift in the conversation about racial equality by proclaiming, “We want Black Power!” The leaders of the District’s program designed to alleviate the effects of poverty and racism in the lives of young men from the ghetto through economic opportunity shared the ideals of the Black Power movement, believing that Black empowerment and not integration should be the goal of all activism. Noticeably absent from the language of the Pride, Inc. papers, however, is the type of militant rhetoric normally associated with late 1960s Black Power. The supervisors and directors overseeing the various departments of Pride revealed deep commitment to the “dudes” they served and to finding solutions for difficult problems without the anger or radicalism one might expect from the era.

The lack of radicalism in the Pride leaders is evident especially when they take the time to articulate their ideology. Within the files of Daniel Russell, Director of Field Training for Pride, Inc., I discovered several memoranda with the subject “My Personal Operating Philosophy” dated in June and July of 1969. It appears that the exercise was required of each person holding a management position. Russell affirmed that “”In my day-to-day activities in and outside of PRIDE, I am guided by the policy that an individual is an individual and should not be viewed under any circumstances collectively with other individuals who may be of the same background, personality, character, and life styles and that each individual must be treated on an equal level.” He specified that this equality of treatment applies not only based on race and class but “male to female, female to male” as well, a progressive view in the period before the women’s liberation movement. Other managers working for Russell expressed similar sentiments. Administrator George Cottman considered it his responsibility to “instill, in the lives of as many dudes as possible, a sense of hope for themselves and for our race.” To contribute more fully to the Pride mission and the uplift of the community, everyone should be willing “to spend more time on his job than he would usually spend on another job.” One of Cottman’s officers emphasized full participation in and commitment  to Pride’s programs “to erase the flaws of self hate, self pity and ignorance which is shared by the masses of Black People.” Another officer believed that “I should at all times set the example in order that those men whom have a directive in life may be able to learn from only the good example so that their lives will become more meaningful.” None of the Field Service managers mentioned racism or white oppression. All saw the path to personal improvement through hard work and dedication.

Pride, Inc. received its funding through Department of Labor and other federal grants; sensitivity to the political atmosphere would be important in public statements to stay in the good graces of the current administration. It would not be surprising to encounter the language of self-sufficiency in applications filed with a conservative administration. Yet these statements were written during the Johnson administration, which was open to the concept of federal responsibility to counter the damages of racial discrimination. Moreover, the memos were not public documents; the purpose of their composition appears only to clarify the vision of those in positions of management. When communicating internally, Pride employees never mention concepts like white oppression or conspiracy against them, although such conditions certainly existed. Instead, the Pride philosophy emphasized taking responsibility for what each individual could control and treating others equally. To the managers at Pride, that was the way to truly embrace Black Power.

The Black-White Community

The Washington, D.C. youth jobs program Pride, Inc. was born in the late 1960s in the Black Power era. The Pride philosophy clearly shares its sensibilities with many other Black Power values. The Pride way focused on self-empowerment and the celebration of Black culture. The leaders deliberately sought out Black professionals and consultants and resisted white administrative interlopers despite relying on federal funding. Their commitment to maintaining tight control over all the Pride endeavors is especially understandable given the lack of any elected representation for the residents of the nation’s capital. Washingtonians had been subjected to the whims of white business owners, presidentially appointed commissioners, and southern congressmen for nearly a century. It is no wonder that the Pride workforce was so adamant about maintaining a space of their own where their interests were protected.

The devotion to Black uplift, both for individuals and for the community as a whole, did not result in complete exclusion of white Washingtonians in all endeavors. Education was an important component of the Pride network of services and among the most ambitious were partnerships with universities located in the District. Through specially designed curricula, the projects offered disadvantaged youth a chance to pursue a certificate that would not only enrich the students personally but would also empower graduates to further the Pride mission. Interestingly, the schools involved did not include Howard University, the prestigious historically-Black college located only a few blocks from the Pride offices. Instead, the Pride education team secured or pursued agreements with American University, Georgetown University, and Catholic University. The project creators wanted the Pride workers to have the opportunity to intermingle with white teachers and students for the benefit of both communities. Among the stated objectives of such a collaboration was “[t]o promote interaction and mutual understanding” between the world of the inner city and the hallowed halls of academia.[1] An important aspect of the Pride philosophy was encouraging the young men to develop a relationship with institutions that often ignored or discounted them.

The proposal document for the project partnership with American University presented the concept eloquently: “To bring Pride people as students to The American University at once informs aware and motivated blacks through direct inter-action procedures with the white middle-class culture without deeply risking their co-option. At the same time their presence and their experience can help educate white students to the needs, talents, and insights of conscious and dedicated blacks.” Although the Pride leaders believed that it was an important part of the students’ experience to interact with affluent white students, they did not want them to become too comfortable in their world. The proposal noted that a black student who spent too much time immersed in middle-class culture might “become acculturated to a social climate which alienates him from his roots, so much that he is reluctant to return and serve his own people in the Inner City. “[2] An important objective of this opportunity was to encourage the Pride workers to use their education to enrich the community and continue the work of Pride.

The creators of the Pride-AU project also saw important benefits to the individual student as a member of the larger society. The experience of “direct daily contact with whites” in school might “lessen the sharper polarization of races” and would also help the students “[t]o understand and know whites on an equal basis” which would enable the ‘dudes’ to learn how to work more freely in community business terms as the Pride economic projects develop.”[3] The more comfortable the students were in a white environment, the more business opportunities would be available to them. For this reason, the required classes included not only Business and Economics but also Culture classes that explored “the sociology of the black-white community with specific references to social movements, social problems, social institutions, police and law enforcement, and community development.” The integrated classes studied “the development of principles of psychology, racism, and black-white communication problems” to learn how to relate to one another. The phrase “black-white community” is also used in the description of a class called “Black Awareness,” which included analysis of music, art, and literature. [4] Although Black art was the focus, it would be presented within the context of the interaction between the races.

Throughout the years that the Pride organization operated, the leaders continually worked to design innovative solutions for the myriad problems facing their members because of the environment of poverty and oppression in which they lived. The Pride mission regularly balanced the needs of the individual worker with the intention to bring prosperity and peace to the inner city neighborhoods they served. Through the partnerships with local universities, the Pride philosophy expanded to include the enrichment of the entire “black-white community” to the benefit of the larger society, which they also believed would uplift the Pride “dudes” as well.

[1] “ABSTRACT. Project Title: Project PRIDE/American University. A Project to Prepare Members of Pride, Inc. So That They Can Aid in the Support of Present and Future Programs of Pride, Inc.,” no author noted, April 12, 1969. Box 11, Untitled Folder 14, Youth Pride, Inc. papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C., 2.

[2] “Project PRIDE/American University,” 3-4.

[3] “Project Pride/American University,” 5.

[4] “Project Pride/American University,” 5.

The Image of Pride

In Who We Be: The Colorization of America, Jeff Chang regularly analyzes shifting American culture and its relationship to race through visual images, especially those created to market products. He parses the creation of advertising campaigns such as Coca-Cola’s “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” television commercial and the United Colors of Benetton print ads to uncover both the intentions of the artists who designed the ads and the reception the campaigns received in American society.[1] Although Chang tends to move past the events he describes without clearly specifying the significance of each moment in the overall cultural narrative, it is clear that he considers such mass images to be key components of the shape of multiculturalism in the United States.

I was first drawn to the story of Pride, Inc. through the power of image. When the young men and boys from the Nation’s Capital first signed up to be part of the youth job initiative in the summer of 1967, they were issued a green uniform with the words “Pride, Inc.” emblazoned prominently across the back. The denim jacket and pants were designed to look “cool” so the workers would feel proud to be associated with the new organization.[2] The Pride, Inc. workers were visible and identifiable to neighbors and onlookers while picking up trash and killing rats, the first tasks undertaken by Pride. The group also paraded through the streets of Washington, D.C. on several occasions to celebrate new contracts with the Department of Labor, joyfully banging on trash cans and displaying pride in their continued success. Visibility was a crucial component of the Pride, Inc. identity. The image of Pride, Inc. was crafted to inspire the poor black residents of the streets served by the clean-up patrols. It was also intended to portray an image of power. “The message was—this is an army,” remembered author George Pellicanos. “And it’s a black army, and that’s scary to a lot of people.” White Washingtonians accustomed to living in a capital city identified by its public space from which black District residents were typically excluded were suddenly confronted with a formidable presence of Pride “dudes” who refused to remain invisible. “We wanted to scare white folks,” recalled Gerald Lee, one of the young men in green, “and let them know that we were about having power.”[3]

I was surprised, however, when I discovered the advertising campaigns and logos designed by Pride, Inc. to promote their expanding services. The letterhead design for Pride Landscaping and Gardening, a division of the for-profit offshoot Pride Economic Enterprises, Inc. includes a faceless, cartoonish scarecrow figure as the “I” in the name “Pride.” Although the mock-ups of the letterhead artwork and the flyer promoting the landscape service found in the unprocessed Pride papers are not dated, they appear to have been created in 1970, the year that Pride Economic Enterprises was formed.[4] Three years after boys in army-style jackets marched defiantly through the streets of the city, Pride leaders had neutralized the Black Power image to present a non-threatening, infantilized version of the organization to attract customers. A press packet assembled by noted advertising executive Moss H. Kendrix as part of a media promotional campaign in late 1969 likewise depicted a child-like image of a Pride worker in a white t-shirt with “PRIDE” printed across the chest striding over miniature office buildings holding a broom. The title of the packet, “In Two Years, From Brooms Towards Economic Promise with Pride, Inc.” appears to signal an evolution from street-cleaners to business entrepreneurs for the formerly “hard-core” Pride workers.[5] To present themselves as a success story to the larger community, Pride promoters not only removed the green jackets; they shed the confrontational swagger as well. The “dudes” were now confident children, or impersonal scarecrows, reassuring potential white clients and news executives that they had nothing to fear from black pride.


[1] Jeff Chang, Who We Be: The Colorization of America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014), 55-56, 62-64 169-177.

[2] Hollie West, “600 Pride, Inc. Volunteers Prepare for Work,” Washington Post August 6, 1967, C2, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[3]Quoted in Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer, The Nine Lies of Marion Barry, New York: IndiePix, 2009

[4] “Youth Pride, Inc. 1968” Box 11, Untitled Folder, Youth Pride papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[5] “Moss Kendrix” Folder, Box 5, Youth Pride, Inc. papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.


The Great Society and Mass Incarceration

In the June 2015 issue of the Journal of American History, Harvard professor Elizabeth Hinton challenged assumptions about the origins of mass incarceration in the United States. The beginning of the so-called War on Crime is typically attributed to the Nixon administration and its law and order stance. Hinton argues through an analysis of Lyndon Johnson’s words and legislation that the shift towards tough crime penalties and stepped-up police presence in primarily black neighborhoods arrived hand-in-hand with the Great Society. In fact, the only way Johnson could get his ambitious War on Poverty programs through a resistant Congress was to couple the social programs with aggressive crime bills. Hinton specifically focuses on the concentration of efforts in Washington, D.C. to increase the law enforcement presence in predominantly black neighborhoods.[1] This build-up takes place during the same period that Pride, Inc. was attempting to transform those areas through individual uplift and education coupled with community edification.

In the wake of urban unrest in several American cities, the president proposed legislation that “blended the opportunity, development, and training programs of the War on Poverty with the surveillance, patrol, and detention programs of Johnson’s newly declared ‘War on Crime,’” a phrase he coined in July 1965.[2] That same year, the internal report by Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan “The Negro Family” portrayed the inner-city black community as pathologically damaged by centuries of slavery and structural racism. While programs like Pride, Inc. worked to correct this perceived failing by nurturing individual young men and facilitating neighborhood beautification, the prevailing government response was to pour federal money into police departments which were tasked with deterring crime through ever-more punitive measures. The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department was the first to receive funds under the newly created Office of Law Enforcement Assistance (OLEA); the 1966 grant of $890,000 was used to purchase radios and vehicles as well as to hire over 350 new officers and detectives. Thus Pride’s philosophy to transform the ghetto through job opportunities that nurtured the potential of young men with criminal pasts was functioning in an environment in which a recently fortified police department operated under “the widely held belief that only increased patrol in segregated urban areas could prevent crime, assuming that disorder could be contained simply by increasing the presence of law enforcement on the streets.”[3] The two federally-funded efforts were seeking to reduce crime through diametrically opposed tactics on the same streets.

The tougher police tactics failed to stem the increase in crime and arguably made the situation worse. Increased police presence in poor neighborhoods led to community resentment and escalating confrontations between residents and officers. After the widespread uprisings in 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Congress passed the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act which financially incentivized local police departments to step up their already provocative tactics and weakened federal oversite of racially discriminatory policing practices.[4] It also made surplus military equipment available to police departments at greatly reduced cost to promote “riot-prevention.”[5] The appearance of tanks and M-1 military carbines on America’s streets reinforced the appearance that the police were engaged in “a war within our own boundaries,” as Johnson declared to the International Association of Chiefs of Police in 1967.[6] This type of battle language eventually drowned out the Pride rhetoric which encouraged the dudes to use the skills developed in the streets to find a productive place in society. If there was a war on crime, then they were the enemy.

[1] Elizabeth Hinton, “’A War within Our Own Boundaries’: Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and the Rise of the Carceral State,” Journal of American History 102, no. 1 (June 2015); 104.

[2] Ibid., 101.

[3] Ibid. 104.

[4] Ibid. 108-109.

[5]Ibid. 110.

[6] Ibid. 103, 110.


Pride, Inc. and Black Power in the Nation’s Capital: Research Question

Response paper 10/11/2015:

For the early part of this semester, I have concentrated my research on digging through the unprocessed papers of Pride, Inc. while at the same time familiarizing myself with the most recent scholarship regarding Black Power in the historical context of the War on Poverty and War on Crime. Although I had a general idea about the subject of my study, I had not yet formally articulated a coherent research question. Over the past week, the direction of my inquiry has become more focused. The story of Pride, Inc. has been largely omitted from the conversation about Black Power and economic self-sufficiency even though it received significant media and political attention at the time. I hope that my work will enrich and expand that discussion.

The bulk of the available literature that explores the Pride, Inc. economic empowerment program has been authored by journalists and has focused nearly exclusively on the personality of Pride founder Marion Barry.[1] Through careful analysis of the period, I will reframe the perception of Pride, Inc. as solely Barry’s political vehicle. Although Barry did receive national recognition for his activism in Washington, D.C., including his leadership of Pride, reducing Pride’s innovation and influence to one man’s political stepping-stone removes it from the larger discussion about late 1960s methods to combat racism, poverty, and crime. My research will give voice to the larger Pride organization and pay attention to what the directors and managers of the departments were seeking to accomplish and the ways in which they sought to successfully integrate the “hard core” unemployed young men of the inner city into the capitalist power structure while honoring the talents and systems of leadership of the “dudes.”

I intent to place Pride’s philosophy within the historical context of the Black Power and black capitalism movements. Work by other scholars such as Laura Warren Hill and Julia Rabig have not included Pride within the conversation about the economic self-sufficiency model of black capitalism and Black Power.[2] While Rhonda Y. Williams does include an abbreviated story about Pride, Inc. in her survey of the long Black Power movement as an example of the “concrete demands” that activists articulated, she does not differentiate Pride’s philosophy significantly from that of Black Power programs with Marxist tendencies.[3] When Pride is included in histories of the period, its conservative leanings and relationship with the Nixon administration are largely omitted. Abbreviated histories of Pride, Inc. are typically found only in scholarship that focuses on the history of Washington, D.C. rather than on the broader picture of black empowerment in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

As I conduct my research I intend to focus on the aspects of the Pride philosophy that differentiate it from other Black Power endeavors and flesh out the intended results of the numerous undertakings that developed under the Pride umbrella. How did the Pride leadership resolve conflicting goals of black empowerment and the need for outside expertise to cope with the complex problems they encountered? To what extent did the desire to bring a new, black perspective to each problem they tackled enhance or hinder their efforts to help the dudes? Was there conflict between the message of individual self-sufficiency and the intention to use the work of Pride to uplift the poor black community? In which areas did their innovation and idealism bring about creative, meaningful solutions? Through my research, I hope that readers will develop a clearer understanding of the varied solutions proposed during the Black Power movement for pressing social issues of the time, many of which still plague our nation today.


[1] See for example Harry S. Jaffe and Tom Sherwood, Dream City: Race, Power and the Decline of Washington, D.C. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994) and Jonetta Rose Barras, The Last of the Black Emperors: The Hollow Comeback of Marion Barry in the New Age of Black Leaders (Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998).

[2] Laura Warren Hill and Julia Rabig, “Towards a History of the Business of Black Power,” in The Business of Black Power: Community Development, Capitalism, and Corporate Responsibility in Postwar America (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2012), 15-44.

[3] Rhonda Y. Williams, Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (New York: Routledge, 2015), 166-167.

Liberalism and Black Power: Cooperation or Co-option

While working on the historiography for my Master’s thesis on the youth employment program and business venture Pride, Inc., I was intrigued by Devin Fergus’s book Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980. In his exploration of various Black Power endeavors in North Carolina, Fergus argues that support by the political left tempered and reined in Black Nationalism, coaxing Black leaders away from violent and nihilistic rhetoric. This association legitimized Black organizations, Fergus asserts, while damaging liberalism’s reputation and contributing to the rise of the conservative movement. Of particular relevance to my research is the chapter discussing Soul City, a planned community in the eastern Piedmont region spearheaded by Floyd McKissick. Soul City became a case study in the failed attempt to reconcile Black economic progress with Republican values. The partnership between Black Power and liberalism was often rocky; the attempt to fashion a Black mecca in poor, rural Warren County using conservative, free-market philosophies was disastrous.

At a time of contentious political wrangling during the 1968 election season, the concept of solving entrenched problems like crime, poverty, discrimination, and civil unrest through the development of Black-owned businesses had surprisingly bipartisan support. McKissick presented the idea of governmental investment in the Black community as the equivalent of a domestic Marshall Plan, modeled on the post-World War II economic rebuilding program for ravaged European nations.[4] The plans for Soul City were embraced by the Johnson administration and continued under the presidency of Richard Nixon. Concerned with establishing a legacy while negotiating with a Democrat-led Congress, Nixon was often willing to support progressive initiatives that he thought would benefit him politically.[5]

Both McKissick and the leaders of Pride, Inc. in the Nation’s Capital had to adjust their plans to the political priorities of the Republican bureaucracy. Republicans saw their natural constituency among the Black population being drawn primarily from the middle- and upper-class, while both Soul City and Pride, Inc. were designed to increase entrepreneurship among the working-class and poor. The competitive edge for the enterprises in Warren County and in Washington, D.C. would come from low-cost labor; the workers that each program was developed to help were not the voters that Republicans wanted to court.[6]This mismatch led to suspicion and animosity. Both Soul City and Pride, Inc. found themselves targets of investigations and audits.[7]

Soul City continued to receive government funds throughout the 1970s despite the McKissick’s desire to achieve financial self-sufficiency. A sustainable economic model was elusive.[8] Rising inflation and a staggering unemployment rate among black workers meant that the target market of black-owned businesses–black clientele–could not provide a sufficient customer base. As conservative policies undermined social programs meant to combat poverty and correct for the legacy of discrimination, black buying power decreased and black businesses failed.[9] Like Soul City, Pride, Inc. could not break the chains of reliance on government support and disintegrated when grants were not renewed. Neither project was able to attain self-sufficiency nor to make progress towards the more elusive goal of alleviating poverty and the resulting social problems caused by systemic racism.

Note: The document created for the original essay is corrupted. There is an error with the footnotes that suggests part of the text has been lost.

[1] Marion Barry, interview by Katherine M. Shannon for The Civil Rights Documentation Project, Washington, D.C., October 1967, in Folder 64, Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Project, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[2] Richard Nixon, quoted in Dean Kotlowski, “Black Power-Nixon Style: The Nixon Administration and Minority Business Enterprise,” The Business History Review 72, no. 3 (Autumn 1998), 411.

[3] Kotlowski, 412-413.

[4] Devin Fergus, Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 198-200.

[5] Fergus, 200-201.

[6] Fergus, 197, 203-205.

[7] Fergus, 216-217.

[8] Fergus, 228-229.

[9] Fergus, 227-228.

The Negro Family: Identifying Problems without Proposing Solutions

From response paper written 9/22/15:

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” The Atlantic, October 2015.

            In the October 2015 edition of The Atlantic, journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates proposes a fresh perspective on the rise of the carcerel state in the United States. His article “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” traces the origins of the criminalization of blackness in this country to a governmental report prepared in 1965 by then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Concerned that civil rights legislation and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty were not sufficiently addressing problems in the Black community, Moynihan and his staff prepared an analysis of the immense challenges faced by people living in poverty who also battled a the effects of “incredible mistreatment to which…[they] had been subjected over the past three centuries.” The Negro Family: The Case for National Action was intended as an internal document to propose further policy discussions and did not include any specific actionable items, despite the title. This omission, Coates argues, led to the misuse of Moynihan’s proposal. Rather than an impetus to action, the ideas in The Negro Family became a diagnosis of inherent dysfunction in the Black community. Once African Americans, particularly Black males, had been branded as deficient, it was easy to solve the problem by locking them up in prison.

Moynihan rooted the cause of Black struggle firmly in the legacy of racism and oppression; he believed that the solution therefore had to come not just in the removal of racist legislation, not in anti-poverty programs that treated all poor people equally, but in proactive policies that attempted to reverse the negative consequences of that history. According to Coates, the report initially included a list of recommendations that were subsequently deleted from the final version; his ideas included guaranteed minimum income, improved access to birth control, recruitment efforts to bring more African Americans into government jobs and the military, and residential integration. Moynihan feared that inclusion of the action items would subvert the report’s impact. Much as any mention of reparations can derail a discussion about the effects of racism today, the authors of The Negro Family feared that arguments over specific proposals would negate the legitimacy of the underlying assertion: that American society had an obligation to support the Black community in order to correct the sins of the past. President Johnson received the report’s findings in this spirit, declaring that “white America must accept responsibility” for the broken condition of the Negro family.

Coates asserts that the failure to include policy proposals in the report had two profound consequences. First, the dialogue it provoked left unchallenged Moynihan’s core assumption that racist policies had primarily damaged Black men, and in turn destroyed the proper familial hierarchy. “In essence,” the report claims, “the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great many Negro women as well.” Absent a robust discussion about solutions, the inherent patriarchal bias and misogyny of the analysis was accepted in the public square. Second, the void left by the lack of actionable items was filled by those who read the report as an indictment of Black culture. Particularly as urban uprisings spread through several northern cities, opponents of social service programs used the report’s diagnosis to proclaim the moral failings of ghetto residents. Riots were just the latest manifestation of the inferiority and beastly nature of a race of people mired in sexual immorality, violence, and corruption.

Rather than inspire support for programs designed to produce economic uplift, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action gave white America an excuse to view African Americans as a malevolent force to be neutralized. What better way to root out the degenerative effect of Black culture than to marginalize its members through mass incarceration. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s provocative article invites a reconsideration of the process by which the entanglement of Black males in the criminal justice system became normalized. It also illustrates the importance of proposing concrete policy solutions when evaluating social problems, lest the victims of discrimination be blamed for their own oppression. In the years since its publication, The Negro Family has inadvertently become the instrument which further bludgeoned the culture its creator sought to uplift.

Black Power and Black Capitalism



As written September 15, 2015:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Civil Rights philosophies of nonviolent direct action to overturn legal segregation evolved into what became known as the Black Power movement. Activists began to tackle the entrenched racism in American society beyond overtly discriminatory laws. While trying to find solutions to the damage wrought on Black communities by centuries of oppression, Black Power leaders turned away from the goal of integration in order to focus on the uplift of African Americans. One of the methods employed in this mission was the development of organizations designed specifically for Black participants to address their unique experiences and sensibilities. The introduction of new assistance programs, educational institutions, and entrepreneurial endeavors run by and for African Americans raised the question: if integration into the predominant social and economic structure was not the goal, were these efforts just another form of segregation? Could Black separatism in fact lead to Black power?

Marion Barry made clear in an interview in October 1967 that he believed separatism was crucial for his youth employment program to be successful in alleviating poverty in the nation’s capital. “I think it’s philosophically, it’s almost impossible to talk about poor whites and Negroes working together,” he explained. “In a society everyone strives for certain level of attainment, material attainment: jobs, homes, social status, etc. Now a white person can come to Washington who’s poor, and he can move into that market and get a job. They cease to be poor anymore. They leave that hole. It’s like Negroes can’t escape out of that hole and no matter how high you get, how much money you make, you’ve still got that pressure to keep you in a certain place, whereas white people don’t have that problem. You can go as far as you want to go. I don’t think it’s possible to have a poor white and black movement of any substantial nature for any long period of time in America. I think racism is too deep.”[1]Because Black men and women are constantly battling against racist attitudes and actions that cripple their efforts, programs implemented to counteract that discrimination must be made available only to the sufferers of that oppression. Otherwise, the program risks perpetuating the same racial hierarchy it is meant to combat.

The Nixon administration adopted the Black Power rhetoric of separatism as it modified Johnson’s War on Poverty programs to fit its agenda. Appearing sympathetic to the Black Power cause, Nixon declared, “We cannot be free, and at the same time be required to fit our lives into prescribed places on a racial grid—whether segregated or integrated.”[2] While initially appearing to agree with Black Power leaders like Floyd McKissack and Stokely Carmichael by advocating economic independence as the means for escaping racism, Nixon was also implicitly endorsing de facto segregation. His avowed support of “black capitalism,” encouraging minority owned businesses as an avenue to racial uplift, was coupled with an aggressive law and order campaign. The assumption by both Nixon and his supporters was that the criminals who would feel the effects of his get-tough policies were black.[3] That supposition has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as the policies instituted during Nixon’s war on crime have resulted in the mass incarceration of people of color. The corresponding economic advances have been elusive.

The problem with the philosophy of separation is that it hinders the development of true multiracial community. Although the celebration and affirmation of Black culture that were an integral part of the Black Power movement were an important development on the path towards a more just society, keeping apart meant that the white community was excluded to some extent from the opportunity to share in that appreciation. More significantly, Black separatism provided cover for white supremacists who kept their positions of power while claiming to support equal opportunity for those of all races. Supporting self-empowerment through Black capitalism implied that those who were still living in poverty or who participated in crime where of inferior moral character and deserved their suffering.


[1] Marion Barry, interview by Katherine M. Shannon for The Civil Rights Documentation Project, Washington, D.C., October 1967, in Folder 64, Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Project, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[2] Richard Nixon, quoted in Dean Kotlowski, “Black Power-Nixon Style: The Nixon Administration and Minority Business Enterprise,” The Business History Review 72, no. 3 (Autumn 1998), 411.

[3] Kotlowski, 412-413.

Pride, Inc. and the Legitimacy of Black Culture Reprise

I wrote the text of the last post as a response paper in September 2015 for an American Studies graduate course called “Cultural Policy and the Politics of Race” taught by James Counts Early. The class was more free-form discussion than instruction and did not delve into the subject of public policy as much as I had hoped. However, one benefit of the class was that the assigned papers centered around exploring the research we were all doing for our Masters or PhD programs. It forced me to get down on paper thoughts I was working through for my thesis. I am posting them now to examine the evolution of my scholarship a year ago. My husband’s health problems interrupted my work and now I am trying to get back to writing.

I edited the original text only slightly. I reworded a sentence where I had used the word “our.” Since I originally wrote the essay, I have realized (and been called out on) my tendency to use words like “we” and “us” in a way that is exclusionary. Otherwise, I left the ideas as they were developed 17 months ago. I am posting these initial reflections publicly so that I can expose them to scrutiny before I let anything inauthentic or historically sloppy into my thesis work.

Reviewing the essays now, I recognize my tendency to make moral or ethical arguments rather than historical ones. Although I am interested in policy, I don’t have the expertise to make political recommendations about what should or could be done. My job as a historian is to tell the story of what happened in the past, to examine the actions, motivations, words, and beliefs of the people involved. Anything else is dishonest.

If anyone happens to stumble upon this blog, I welcome your impressions and critiques.