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No Strings Attached: Philanthropy, Race, and Donor Control From Black Power to Black Lives Matter

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This article examines a moment of crisis and experimentation in philanthropy from the late 1960s to analyze how race shapes philanthropy. Specifically, it considers two giving circles in Boston launched as a linked funding initiative to address economic and racial inequality: (a) a group of wealthy, White suburbanites who started the Fund for Urban Negro Development to direct donations with “no strings attached” to the other, (b) the Boston Black United Front Foundation, an entity started by Black power activists in the city. Using archival records of the two groups, I analyze their efforts to decouple hierarchies of race and giving in funder–grantee relationships, and connect scholarship on African American history and philanthropy to that on donor control. I frame the notion of “no strings attached” giving as relative and shaped by positioning and identity in ways that produce multiple understandings of the material and abstract “strings” of philanthropy.

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