A new phrase entered the English lexicon in the late 1960s. Amidst growing calls for “community control” and reparations for slavery the United Methodist Board of Missions announced a $1.3 million grant supporting what they termed “black empowerment”. At the time, few paid attention to what was, in effect, a re-appropriation of Black Power. Over the next three decades, black empowerment became an increasingly popular way for religious leaders, businesspeople, politicians, and government bureaucrats to describe the proliferation of public and private initiatives promoting black entrepreneurship, commercial education, and other kinds of community development in black communities from North Philadelphia to Soweto.
As it spread, black empowerment relied on the intellectual and rhetorical work performed by black entrepreneurs like Leon Sullivan and Carl Ware in translating free market principles and melding them with the aspirations of black people across the diaspora. By centering private capital alongside state power, this talk furthermore explains how American corporations profited from black militancy, racial liberalism, and the political conservatism that blossomed within the global black freedom struggle.
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