Institute for the Humanities Hosts Karen Ferguson Lecture on Black Leadership in America

Humanities, History

February 20, 2015

As Black History Month (Canada) and African American History Month (US) come to a close, and conversations around anti-Black racism and police violence in America, and the interventions of social movements like #BlackLivesMatter continue to resound, many ask how brutal state violence and tragedy can occur in a country where Barack Obama—America’s first black president, elected in both 2008 and 2012—is for so many a national symbol for hope and for Black achievement?

Karen Feguson, SFU Professor in History and Urban Studies, addressed such questions in her lecture, “Domesticating Dissent in the Black Power Era: Tracing the Historical Roots of the Obama Presidency,” given at the end of January for SFU’s Institute for the Humanities. In Obama-era America, she argued, Obama’s election solidified, for many, America’s “role as a global beacon of freedom, democracy, and equal opportunity for all the black man’s journey to the White House.” Yet, this same period is ushering in what some call a “new Jim Crow” era of “mass incarceration, chronic and unchecked police brutality and the ongoing reality of rampant poverty and stagnant progress.”

Drawing upon research from her 2013 book, Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism Ferguson's talk focused on the efforts of McGeorge Bundy, the Ford Foundation’s leader from 1966-79, to examine how “domesticating dissent” in part was achieved by investing in particular kinds of black activist projects and leaders, like civil rights activist and Baptist minister Leon Sullivan. She says these efforts helped to “reshape racial liberalism as part of a top-down project to forge a national consensus on race in the wake of the seismic changes wrought both by the legislative victories of the civil rights movement and the urban crisis of postindustrial, ghettoized cities that spurred black power.”


Professor Ferguson also gave a talk in February 2014 on “The Yin-Yang of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King,” inspired by HIST 440: Topics in US History, a course she taught on the myths and realities of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.