Large-scale, organized American philanthropy has long been driven by an awareness of racial and economic inequality. From wealthy individuals’ concern about the US South to organized philanthropic engagement with civil rights and social justice issues throughout the twentieth century, these concerns have shaped programs in education, democratic engagement, public health, and beyond.

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Race & Social Justice

An Unlikely Partnership: Ted Watkins and the Rockefeller Foundation

Urban unrest erupted across the United States in the late 1960s. Race and unequal opportunity became national concerns. In response, the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) partnered with a charismatic activist from the Watts district in Los Angeles, one of America’s poorest neighborhoods, a man whose background and political agenda would challenge the Foundation’s civil rights strategy…

elementaChildren of diverse ethnic backgrounds get ready to go inside their school, two hold hands
Race & Social Justice

Can Data Drive Social Change? Tackling School Segregation with Numbers

In the years before Brown v. Board of Education, school desegregation loomed large in the South. The Fund for the Advancement of Education, a Ford Foundation creation, launched a massive research project in 1953. Its racially integrated research team believed that the numbers would speak for themselves on education equality. They were mistaken…

Race & Social Justice

The Origins of the Rockefeller Foundation Equal Opportunity Program

A fundraising appeal from the United Negro College Fund in 1962 prompted the Rockefeller Foundation to design and launch a full-blown Equal Opportunity program, the first in its history. How a simple request come to have such a broad impact…

Race & Social Justice

Photo Essay: Supporting Minority Enterprise in the late 1960s

In 1968, the Ford Foundation began to fund minority enterprise and other social investments using a new tool, the Program-Related Investment (PRI). This photo essay shows the breadth of these investments and diversity of activities that PRIs funded in both inner city and rural environments…

Race & Social Justice

The Rockefeller Foundation Confronts School Inequality

During the height of the US civil rights movement, the Rockefeller Foundation supported the Princeton College Summer Program, aiming to increase the number of minority students going on to college. Despite raising admissions rates successfully, the program also raised larger questions about philanthropy’s capacity to address systemic inequality…

Issues in Philanthropy

Supporting Economic Justice? Ford’s 1968 PRI Experiment

The Program-Related Investment (PRI), a financial tool invented in the late 1960s, aimed to broaden the scope of recipients that philanthropic funds could help. The Ford Foundation unveiled this new mechanism with $10 million of support to market-based projects in minority enterprise, housing, manufacturing, and community development…