In this guest blog post, Karen Ferguson, author of Top Down: The Ford Foundation, Black Power, and the Reinvention of Racial Liberalism, considers the historical legacy of racial liberalism and the political career of Senator Cory Booker
Last week, Cory Booker was sworn in as the first black Senator from New Jersey and the first black Senator to be elected since Barack Obama won his Illinois seat in 2004. These historic firsts can be cast as signs of national progress toward racial justice and growing meritocracy. Yet, as Booker conceded during the last summer’s ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, he was “born on third base.”
Booker’s concurrent troubles in leading Newark and success as a political celebrity demonstrate how the rise of elite black figures in America is not the culmination of the fight for racial equality, as the story is often told, but is rather the consummation of an elite white strategy begun in the late 1960s to bring exceptional African Americans into the highest echelons of American culture and society with few benefits for those left behind.