Andrew W. Mellon Undergraduate Fellow in the Humanities
2009—2010 Forum on Connections
History, Africana Studies
Tuskegee in Philadelphia: The Ideological and Institutional Foundations of Leon Sullivan's Opportunities Industrialization Centers
In January of 1964, Rev. Leon Howard Sullivan, minister at the historic Zion Baptist Church and well-known civil rights advocate, hosted the grand opening of his startup job training and adult education center (not unlike Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute of 50 years earlier) in an abandoned North Philadelphia police station. Touted by some as the first black-run program of its kind, the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) was born amidst the raging Civil Rights struggle and at the dawn of both the Black Power era and President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. The OIC was Sullivan’s own answer to the pressing questions of urban poverty and unemployment. With federal and foundation funding, OIC within its first ten years grew into a national operation with branches in cities across the country. How was OIC's relationship to its earliest and most significant sources of funding influenced by common conceptions about the roots of post-war urban poverty, and how did OIC reshape those views? In what ways was OIC an expression of the politics of corporate Black Power to which Sullivan was an early adherent, and where did Sullivan and his political thought stand in relation to the emergent Black Power era?