#BlackPhilanthropyEdition Part II

Photo: Georgia Gilmore in the kitchen, 1978. The Montgomery Advertise

Last month, in the #BlackPhilanthropyEdition, we delved into the history of Black Philanthropy Month, and learned more about the methods of aid Black folks developed and employed in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. In this issue, we cover the roots of the contemporary philanthropic movement: people who claimed space and transformed the Civil Rights movement through organizing, music, food and creative changemaking.


But during delivery, King started improvising a bit when he reached a sentence that felt clunky. Instead of calling on the crowd to “go back to our communities as members of the international association for the advancement of creative dissatisfaction,” he went with: “Go back to Mississippi; go back to Alabama; go back to South Carolina; go back to Georgia; go back to Louisiana; go back to the slums and ghettos of our Northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.”

It was at that moment, says King’s adviser Clarence Jones, that Mahalia Jackson cried out: “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!”

“Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope,” Mahalia once remarked. Mahalia was one of many Black pop stars who used their time, talent and treasure to uplift movement. Protest hymns like Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit (1939) and Mississipi Goddam (1964) to We Shall Overcome at Stonewall, an adaptation of Charles Albert Tindley’s I’ll Overcome Someday provided the soundtrack of the movement. Elsewhere, musicians like Ray Charles refused to perform in segregated music spaces. The fight for desegregation was being fought on all fronts.


“Gilmore organized black women to sell pound cakes and sweet potato pies, fried fish and stewed greens, pork chops and rice at beauty salons, cab stands and churches,” reported NPR columnist Maria Godoy in a 2018 article about the activist. She called her group, the Club from Nowhere. “[Georgia Gilmore] offered these women, many of whose grandmothers were born into slavery, a way to contribute to the cause that would not raise suspicions of white employers who might fire them from their jobs, or white landowners who might evict them from the houses they rented,” John T. Edge says.

Godoy continued: “The money they raised helped pay for the alternative transportation system that arose in Montgomery during the 381-day bus boycott: hundreds of cars, trucks and wagons that ferried black workers to and from their jobs across town each day. Gilmore’s cooking helped pay for the insurance, gas, wagons and vehicle repairs that kept that system going.”

Gilmore’s activism came at a high price: she eventually lost her job for testifying at Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s 1956 trial, in which he and several others were charged with unlawful conspiracy for organizing boycotts. This set back didn’t stop her, and she eventually opened a restaurant in her home which became a popular place for organizers and activists of the day.

In his 1999 book, At the Crossroads: The Proceedings of the First National Conference on Black Philanthropy, Dr. C. Erick Lincoln described philanthropy as, “The voluntary transfer of significant values identified with the self, or an extension of the self to other entities perceived as wanting. These quantum of value may be intangible, as in the case of love, labor, services or support: or they may be concrete and tangible as in the case of money, works of art, clothing, shelter and the like.” Dr. Emmett Carson, a leading scholar on Black Philanthropy explains further, “”One reason little has been written about black philanthropy is that the word philanthropy evokes images of large foundations and wealthy philanthropists. When one expands the concept to include giving money, goods, and time; blacks emerge as having a strong, substantial philanthropic tradition.”

When we push against popular notions of philanthropy to include the ways we create spaces that abundantly care for others, no longer asterisked or subsumed, we lean into the spirit of our ancestors.

Further Reading:

Organizations you can donate to:

THE BOSTON UJIMA PROJECT is organizing neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to create a new community controlled economy in Boston.

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