Research

My first project, Black Power, Inc.: Corporatizing Anti-Racist Struggles in the U.S. and Sub-Saharan Africa charts the corporatization of the global black freedom struggle starting with Black Power in the 1960s and ending with the international anti-apartheid movement. Whereas other historians have focused on the developments wrought by black activists in the public sphere—public education, and voting, just to name a few—I argue for the importance of multinational corporate executives and black entrepreneurs in shaping the post-Jim Crow/post-apartheid world. Drawing on corporate and “movement” archives from the United States and South Africa, Black Power, Inc. reveals the financial and intellectual investments made by multinational corporate executives, black entrepreneurs, and government officials in black empowerment. Defined as private and government programs promoting job-training, community development, and black entrepreneurship, black empowerment increasingly supplanted more radical demands for economic justice in black communities from North Philadelphia to Soweto. As it spread, black empowerment politics intersected and appropriated aspects of black nationalisms, Christian uplift politics, and African “traditionalism.”  By centering private capital alongside state power, Black Power, Inc. explains how American business profited from the seeds of political conservatism that blossomed within the global black freedom struggle.

Black Power, Inc. combines insights from Africana studies, business history, and political history in order to illuminate the relationship between black internationalism and post-war global American capitalism. Moving across space, time, and scale, each chapter analyzes the critical intellectual and rhetorical work performed by black entrepreneurs like Leon Sullivan in translating free market principles and melding them with the aspirations of black people across the diaspora. In 1964, Sullivan launched Opportunities Industrialization Centers, Inc., a job-training and black economic development program, while declaring, “the day has come when we must do more than protest—we must now also PREPARE and PRODUCE!” Over the next few years, Sullivan gained national and international prominence as a leading advocate for black empowerment, joining General Motors’ board as its first black director and serving on the boards of numerous organizations. Through an examination of the ideological and career trajectories taken by Sullivan and others like him, Black Power, Inc. sheds light on the compromises made by black entrepreneurs in their pursuit of black empowerment. At the same time, it also shows how white executives took advantage of the widespread desire for black empowerment to extend American corporate and financial power in black communities throughout the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa.

 

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