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. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/10/the-black-family-in-the-age-of-mass-incarceration/403246/

            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.

Pride, Incorporated and the Legitimacy of Black Culture

For my Master’s thesis, I am researching the youth employment program developed by a group of activists from the District of Columbia called Pride, Inc. The full story of Pride’s groundbreaking mission has been overshadowed by the charismatic personality and sometimes sordid political career of its most famous founder, Marion Barry. The Pride philosophy of economic empowerment celebrated rather than pathologized the culture of “ghetto” youth. Through ambitious and wide-ranging endeavors, the leaders of Pride put the “hard-core” unemployed to work in leadership positions with the intention of capitalizing on the street-smarts of their members, affectionately and respectfully called “dudes.” “Pride, Inc. was organized to provide solutions to problems created by the larger society and festering within the lower-economic black community of Washington, D.C.,” an early description paper explained. By channeling the energy of the discarded and marginalized young people of the District, Pride intended to “demonstrat[e] to the larger community that these people want to and will work.”[1] Using the wisdom of the black community, Pride, Inc. would prove to the world and to themselves that they had the ability to be economically powerful.

My initial research revealed that Pride was not unique in the nation’s capital as a government-funded program designed to address social ills, unemployment, and crime in the inner-city. The Report of the President’s Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia released in 1966, the year before Pride’s creation, described a plethora of available resources for city residents, including an extensive network run by the United Planning Organization (UPO).[2] Why then was Labor Secretary Willard Wirtz willing to fund another endeavor in August 1967, when Pride, Inc. received its first grant? What appears to be distinctive about Pride was its focus on the people it served as the change agents. Unlike other assistance agencies that expect clients to conform to white establishment expectations, Pride, Inc. would be developed and run by the dudes and their supporters. As described in their publication Dig Your BLACK Self, “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.”[3] Pride offered more than job training; it affirmed the inherent worth of black culture. It offered the promise of success because of the dudes’ life experience, not in spite of it.

Within the Pride papers, I discovered a position paper of the Black United Front (BUF) from 1970 that made an powerful point about de-legitimization of culture. The paper took issue with a recently proposed plan to improve education and academic achievement. Among its many points, the BUF criticized traditional education practice that seeks to correct the speech patterns that black children learned from their families and communities. It pointed out that the language and dialect of the ghetto are a rich heritage from ancestors who created a distinctive language to thwart their oppressors. “Black dialect is a survival mechanism. Black dialect is a legitimate dialect, and should be recognized as such, and should not be bastardized.”[4] It was an argument with which I was familiar, the “Ebonics” philosophy that is so often ridiculed, but I was suddenly struck by the wisdom of the position. White society communicates to young black people that not only is their skin color a barrier to be overcome, but that everything they have learned from their family and their neighborhood is wrong. To be successful, they are told in school or on the job, they must alter the way they speak, the way they dress, and their manner of negotiating relationships. Everything that encompasses their identity must be subverted or they will be judged unacceptable.

This is the ultimate damage and injustice of racism. To negotiate a white-dominated society, African Americans must find ways to suppress their own culture or face the consequences. As Jeff Chang describes so eloquently, culture “is our shared space. It is the narrative we are immersed in every day. It is where people find community, and express their deepest held values…”[5] When white culture is normalized, the full expression of black culture is pushed out of the shared space and erased it from the conversation,  In the era of Black Power, the visionaries at Pride, Inc. sought to reclaim that stolen ground and return dignity to the young dudes of Washington, D.C. The intention of my research is to tell that story and begin a dialogue to reframe, in a small way, the narrative we are immersed in.

[1] “Pride, Inc.” undated, in Box 11, Folder 10, Youth Pride, Inc. papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Emphasis in the original.

[2] Report of the President’s Commission on Crime in the District of Columbia (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 762-768.

[3] Youth Pride, Incorporated, Dig Your BLACK Self, Washington, D.C., 1969 in Youth Pride, Inc. Papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[4] “Clark Plan-Critique,” Folder 19, Box 2, Youth Pride, Inc. papers (unprocessed), Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[5] Jeff Chang, Who We Be: The Colorization of America (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014), 5.