Dr. Eric John Abrahamson
President, Vantage Point Historical Services, Inc.
Fellow, Institute of Applied Economics, Global Health and Study of Business Enterprise
John Hopkins University
"Philanthropy and Social Movements:
the Case of the Taconic Foundation, 1958-2013"
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
12:00 - 1:15 p.m.
University Hall, Large Conference Room, Third Floor, IUPUI
In 1963, Malcolm X accused philanthropist Stephen Currier of emasculating the revolutionary impulse of grassroots forces in the civil rights movement. Working with the major leaders of the movement and the Kennedy White House, Currier’s five-year-old Taconic Foundation had played a leading role in the development and deployment of a massive voter registration initiative across the American South. White House officials hoped this effort would shift the movement’s focus from direct action to the ballot box. In the histories of the movement and of philanthropy, the Taconic Foundation’s story, following Malcolm’s argument, has often been depicted as an example of the insidious role of philanthropy in tempering social movements to preserve institutionalized social and economic power.
The history of the Taconic Foundation, created by Stephen and Audrey Currier—Andrew Mellon’s granddaughter—offers a far more complex and nuanced portrayal of the role of philanthropy in the African American civil rights movement and in the effort to address the crisis of the cities in America in the 1960s and 70s. It also provides a fascinating case study in the development and management of smaller family foundations and their potential to impact society far beyond their apparent resources.
Historian Eric John Abrahamson is completing a book on the history of the Taconic Foundation. President and Principal Historian of Vantage Point Historical Services and a fellow at the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University, Abrahamson has authored or co-authored a number of books on the history of philanthropy, including Democracy & Philanthropy (2013, Rockefeller Foundation) and Spirited Commitment (McGill Queens University Press). Vantage Point’s current and past clients in philanthropy include the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Foundation, and the MasterCard Foundation.