Jessica Levy, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Department of History, Purchase College
Postdoctoral Research Associate, Term 2018-2019

Jessica Ann Levy is a historian of modern America with interests in racism, capitalism, and politics at the local, national, and global level. My work explores how dynamic movements, including those demanding racial justice and an end to global apartheid, challenged and were ultimately incorporated into institutions representing the U.S. government and multinational corporations.

Jessica is currently working on her first book, Black Power, Inc.: Corporate America, Race, and Empowerment Politics in the U.S. and Africa, under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Combining insights and modes of analysis from the history of capitalism, business history, political history, critical race studies, transnational history and African Studies, Black Power, Inc. brings together two narratives central to late twentieth century history, yet, which have hitherto remained largely separate in the literature: the history of the global Black Power movement and the transnational rise of free-market politics. It does so through revealing the financial, ideological, and political investments made by government officials, corporate executives, and black activist-entrepreneurs in black empowerment politics. Defined as private and public programs promoting job training, community development, and black entrepreneurship, black empowerment increasingly supplanted more radical demands for economic justice and reparations amid the late twentieth century transition from Jim Crow to a post-apartheid global economy. In the process, she shows how advocates of black empowerment appropriated older intellectual traditions, including Christian uplift and a patriarchal African traditionalism, and gave them new life through associating them with skills—entrepreneurship, managerialism—touted as the keys to success in a globalizing economy. Aided by the U.S. government and U.S. corporations, black empowerment ventures have become a hallmark of the post-Jim Crow/post-colonial policy landscape governing black communities from North Philadelphia to Soweto. By centering private capital alongside state power, Black Power, Inc. furthermore explains how American capitalism profited from black militancy, racial liberalism, and the seeds of political conservatism that blossomed within the global black freedom struggle.

Her research has been supported by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the UVA Center for Global Inquiry + Innovation, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, the Hagley Library, the German Historical Institute, the Johns Hopkins Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, as well as numerous libraries. Prior to coming to Purchase, she held postdoctoral research associate positions with the Democracy Initiative’s Corruption Lab on Ethics, Accountability, and the rule of Law, and the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.