Race-rights Lawsuits

  • Public-Policy Reform
  • 1967

In 1967, the Ford Foundation decided to become a major funder of the civil-rights movement. By 1970 it was spending 40 percent of its grantmaking on minorities. Much of the money went to advocating for new government policies or spending aimed at economic enrichment of minorities. Another important slice went to litigation for civil-rights causes.

The foundation started with a 1967 grant of $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. This organization had been involved in the 1954 desegregation suit Brown v. Board of Education and many other cases since its establishment in 1940. With Ford as a backer, the NAACP-LDF ratcheted up the lawsuits, and migrated from a commitment to equal opportunity and toward an embrace of equal results.

In 1971, the LDF’s Griggs v. Duke Power case established the principle of disparate impact—which held that even policies of colorblind neutrality would be considered discriminatory if they produced uneven racial outcomes. The NAACP-LDF went on to become a major promoter of racial preferences in public employment, contracting, and education.

The organization also functioned as an incubator of politicians and advocates. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Harvard Law School professor Lani Guinier and others worked for the NAACP-LDF. In 2014 it had a budget of about $16 million.

  • Richard Magat, The Ford Foundation at Work (Plenum Press, 1979)