Tanisha C. Ford, Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY, has written extensively on the cultural politics of modern social movements. Trained in twentieth-century U.S. history, Ford employs what she terms “eclectic archiving,” analyzing manuscript collections alongside object-based archival materials such as family heirlooms, yearbooks, album covers, and textiles. Through these fragments of historical evidence, she pieces together vibrant, untold histories of women who came of age during the turbulent 1960s. Ford is the author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul (2015), which won the OAH Liberty Legacy Foundation Award for Best Book on Civil Rights History; the critically acclaimed Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion (2019); and co-author (with Deborah Willis) of Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful (2019). Her scholarship has been published in the Journal of Southern History, NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art, the Black Scholar, and QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking. She writes regularly for public audiences, with feature stories, cultural criticism, and profiles in the Atlantic, New York Times, Elle, Aperture, The Root, Bitch, and The Feminist Wire. In 2019, Ford was named to The Root 100 Most Influential African Americans list for her innovative, public-facing scholarship. Her research has been supported by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Ford Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and University of London’s School of Advanced Study, among others. Ford is working on a new book-length study, “Our Secret Society: America’s Forgotten Black Philanthropists for Racial Justice,” which examines the webs of power and influence that financially bolstered the Civil Rights movement.
Drawn from Ford's manuscript-in-progress, this talk centers on the black women philanthropists who raised millions of dollars for various civil rights organizations in the years following World War II. As architects of modern fundraising, women such as Urban League Guild founder Mollie Moon were in the business of being seen, of being written about. There are literally thousands of stories published about them in the African American press between 1940 and 1980. Some even left behind personal papers for posterity. So why don't we know many of their names? Why do we often dismiss Black women's giving as something other than "philanthropy"? Ford will address these questions as she walks us through the sweeping archive she's assembled to throw light upon a generation of politically mobilized Black women powerbrokers.