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Institute of the Black World (1969-1983): short-lived but a significant mover for change

The cover of The Challenge of Blackness (Photograph courtesy of Amazon)

In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history

The Institute of the Black World was a collective Black intellectual think-tank spearheaded by Vincent Harding, chair of history and sociology at Spelman College, Stephen Henderson, chair of English at Morehouse College, and independent scholar William Strickland from 1969 to 1983. The institute emerged after the death of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr, despite him having no formal links with any colleges or universities.

Its members included leading Black political and scientific analysts and advocates, including scholars C.L.R. James of Federal City College (later the University of the District of Columbia); Walter Rodney, author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; John Henrik Clark, a pioneer in the creation of Pan-African and Africana studies; cultural critic/folklorist Julius Lester, Chester Davis, professor at Canada’s Sir George Williams University; anthropologist/choreographer Katherine Dunham; Lerone Bennett Jr, Senior Editor of Ebony magazine and author of Before the Mayflower, sociologist Joyce Ladner, historian Sterling Stuckey, and political theorist Robert A. Hill.

They worked together to collect data on African America, mainly to integrate the Black experience into public school, college and university curriculums. As one supporter of IBW described the think-tank, “they placed their minds directly in the service of the Black community to work as change agents for solving its most pressing problems”. The Institute of the Black World also sought to expand the concept of Black Power. It pushed for an analytical framework that moved beyond Liberalism (the quest for racial integration), Black nationalism and Marxism. In the process, they called for making Black Studies the interdisciplinary intellectual platform for knowledge, self-understanding and political liberation.

IBW was housed on Chestnut Street in Atlanta in the residence where W.E.B. du Bois once lived when he taught at Atlanta University. The house was directly adjacent to what would become the Martin Luther King Jr Centre and eventually became a component of the centre. However, the IBW always suffered from underfunding as it never received grants from universities, major philanthropy organisations — such as the Ford Foundation — or the Federal Government for fear that it would lose its independence, specifically its ability to speak out against racial injustice. As a result, the organisation terminated its activities in 1983, just 14 years after its founding.

The Institute of the Black World was a short-lived post-civil rights era project that encouraged debates over race and class in the United States while addressing many pressing problems facing the Black community. It promoted critical research and intellectual development while analysing the various approaches to Black freedom, including Pan-Africanism, Black nationalism and Marxism, in an attempt to redefine and deepen American democracy.


“Abdul Alkalimat (Gerald McWorter),” https://www.alkalimat.org/ibw/; Derrick E. White, “An Independent Approach to Black Studies: The Institute of the Black World (IBW) and its Evaluation and Support of Black Studies,” https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12111-011-9166-1; “Expanding the History of the Black Studies Movement: Some Prefatory Notes,” https://umaine.edu/philosophy/wp-content/uploads/sites/99/2021/02/Fenderson-Baumgartner-Stewart-in-JAAS.pdf

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Published February 18, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated February 18, 2023 at 7:57 am)

Institute of the Black World (1969-1983): short-lived but a significant mover for change

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