Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education

reviewed by Michael Steven Williams - January 02, 2008

coverTitle: White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education
Author(s): Noliwe M. Rooks
Publisher: Beacon Press, Boston
ISBN: 0807032719, Pages: 213, Year: 2007
Search for book at Amazon.com

Sankofa is an Akan Adinkra symbol that literally translates to “go back and fetch.” In more contemporary terms, the principle of Sankofa is used in the African American community to suggest that people should use an attention to and awareness of the past to guide them in the future (Grills, 2004). The tenets of this principle resonate through the critical discourse pertaining to the past and future of African American studies in American colleges and universities found in White Money / Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education. In this work, Dr. Noliwe Rooks, associate director of African American Studies at Princeton University, unravels the complex history of the institutionalization and proliferation of African American Studies on college and university campuses in the United States. While other works address the origin of black studies programs from the black student protest movements of the late 1960s (Huggins, 1985; Hine, 1997; Reuben, 1998; Cole, 2004; Mazama, 2006), Rooks contributes to scholarship on the history of black studies by providing insight into how the events leading to and the philanthropy supporting the growth and continuation of these programs has implications for how affirmative action and racial integration are understood in colleges and universities today. She further contributes by making clear that the calls for recognition and change that spurred the creation of black studies programs were, in most instances, aided by the support and determination of other historically marginalized populations, not championed by African Americans alone.

Following Chapter 1’s detailed introduction to the array of issues in this work, Chapter 2 offers a more precise focus on the student uprising that demanded and eventually won the nation’s first department of black studies at San Francisco State University. Using documents from the San Francisco State archives and articles from the New York Times to augment her refashioning of William Orrick’s (1969) account of militant black student unrest and activism, Rooks asserts that the protests that led to this monumental change were actually the work of a number of campus and community groups that wanted to see curricular and civic engagement improvements in both the university and surrounding community. Further, like other authors (Mazama, 2006; Redmond & Henry, 2005), she is careful to remind readers that the events at San Francisco State should be seen as the culmination of a decade-long nonviolent struggle for civil rights rather than a sudden surge of aggressive activity by frustrated black students. She extends these works by illuminating the multicultural character of the predominantly white Students for a Democratic Society, the mostly black Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Asian, Hispanic and Native American Third World Liberation Front that were all instrumental in turning the demands for black studies into a reality.

The crux of the discussion that lends the book its name comes in Chapters 3 and 4 as Rooks offers an insightful account of how McGeorge Bundy and the Ford Foundation were essential to the survival and institutionalization of black studies programs. There was a great deal of controversy about the intellectual validity, composition, and direction of black studies programs (Cruse, 1969; Kilson, 1969; Ford, 1973), and the decision to embrace either a separatist or an integrationist view divided people as the programs began to spread. Rooks meticulously shows how the integrationist ethic won as McGeorge Bundy and the Ford Foundation were “able to legitimize the study of people of African descent in the academy” (Rooks, 2006, pp. 77-78) through grants totaling more than ten million dollars and supporting upwards of twenty-four programs between 1968 and 1972. By selecting programs that backed the agenda they supported, “foundations were able to institutionalize their perspectives on race and racial interaction and cooperation, through the schools, teachers, classes, and courses of study they funded” (Rooks, 2006, p. 105). Only funding programs promoting the use of black studies to aid in diversification and integration, Bundy and the Ford Foundation, like other philanthropists and foundations before—most notably Carnegie and Rockefeller—had a disproportionate influence on the direction of the black studies discipline and African American higher education.

Unfortunately, the use of black studies for student and faculty diversification and integration caused many to view it simply as an academically inadequate tool for affirmative action. Rooks deals with this problem in Chapters 5 and 6 as the account moves toward the present day and becomes noticeably more personal. Here Rooks asserts that the negative stigma and questions of credibility still associated with African American studies continue to steer talented black students and faculty away from the discipline. Though there are some outstanding programs producing intellectually rigorous work, the bulk of African American studies departments are deficient and floundering for meaningful identity in their institutions. Rooks also opens the already controversial conversation about the changing demographics of blacks in elite institutions of higher education (Massy, et. al., 2007). The disproportionately large number of first and second generation African and Caribbean students in top universities is shifting the overarching meaning of blackness, and as a result, the cultural and historical foundation of black studies—one that recognizes the experience and oppression of blacks in America—is losing footing. She also submits that the ethnic difference and importance of the culturally American black is being subverted as demonstrated by the strategic and political variation in names—African American studies, Africana studies, African Diaspora studies, African World studies—that black studies programs carry today.

Armed with meaningful personal and professional experience, Rooks accomplishes her goal of “situating the role of white philanthropy within the context of race, democratic education, and social reform” (p. 27). To this end, White Money / Black Power consistently draws on scholarly literature when detailing the evolution of black studies into its current form, and only uses personal accounts where necessary to contextualize assertions about the present. The personal narrative could have been woven more seamlessly into the book rather than confined to the final two chapters. Also, although this work explicitly and deliberately deals with the period from 1967 to 2005, it could have been enhanced by additional discussion of the background of the students who led the strikes. The black migration northward and the G.I. Bill after World War II, the Higher Education Act of 1965, the Basic Education Opportunity Grant Program of 1972, and the aggressive recruitment of inner-city youth made the black population attending college at the time of the strikes that led to black studies programs markedly different in character from their counterparts in the 1950s and before (Huggins, 1985). It could have also been enriched by more attention to the history of black studies in America and the university before the student uprisings, as the failure to recognize the earlier contribution of historians and scholars like W.E.B. DuBois, Carter Woodson, Charles Johnson, and E. Franklin Frazier makes black studies look like it is simply a consequence of the civil rights movement.

For those interested in understanding the interplay of philanthropy, politics, and education, White Money / Black Power is an invaluable addition to the canon of literature. It does an excellent job of revealing how knowledge of the past can help in the explanation and comprehension of contemporary problems, and lays a strong foundation for those who wish to confront the challenges African American Studies will face in the future.


Clark Hine, D. (1997). Black studies: an overview, in James L. Conyers, ed. Africana studies: a disciplinary quest for both theory and method (pp. 7-15). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

Cole, J.B. (2004). Black studies in liberal arts education, in Jacqueline Bobo, Cynthia Hudley, & Claudine Michel (Eds.), The Black studies reader (pp. 21-34). New York: Routledge.

Cruse, H. (1969). The integrationist ethic as a basis for scholarly endeavors in Armstead L. Robinson, Craig C. Foster, & Donald H. Ogilvie, eds. Black studies in the university: A symposium (pp. 4-12). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ford, N.A. (1973). Black studies: threat or challenge? Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press.

Grills, C.T. (2004). African psychology, in Reginald L. Jones, ed. Black psychology (pp. 171-208). Hampton, VA: Cobb & Henry Publishers.

Huggins, N. (1985). Afro-American studies: A report to the Ford Foundation. New York: Ford Foundation.

Kilson, M. (1969). The intellectual validity of studying the black experience, in Armstead L. Robinson, Craig C. Foster, & Donald H. Ogilvie (Eds.), Black studies in the university: A symposium (pp. 13-16). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Massey, D., Moody. M., Torres, K., & Charles, C. (2007, February). Black immigrants

and black natives attending selective colleges and universities in the United

States. American Journal of Education, 113, 243-271.

Mazama, A. (2006). Interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or unidisciplinary? Africana studies and the vexing question of definition, in Molefi Kete Asante and Maulana Karenga (Eds.), Handbook of Black studies (pp. 3-15). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Orrick, W. (1969). Shut it down! A college in crisis: San Francisco State College, October 1968-April 1969. A report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence. Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Redmond, L. & Henry, C. P. (2005). The roots of black studies, in James L. Conyers, Jr. (Ed.), Afrocentric traditions (pp. 165-184). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Reuben, J. (1998).  Reforming the university: Student protests and the demand for a “relevant” curriculum, in Gerard J. DeGroot (Ed.), Student protest: The sixties and after (pp. 153-168). New York: Longman.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 02, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14866, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 3:23:18 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Michael Williams
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL STEVEN WILLIAMS is a Masters Student in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests include race and equity issues in higher education, leadership in educational institutions, and college access and choice for low-income students and students of color.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue