Institute of the Black World

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The Institute of the Black World (IBW) was an Atlanta-based, African American think tank founded and directed by African American intellectuals from 1969 to 1983. Its primary objective was to conduct research that would positively impact the lives of African people worldwide; its initial emphasis was on addressing concerns relevant to African Americans.
The IBW as an institution began its life as a part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center and also had ties with the Atlanta University Graduate Center. One of the IBW's cofounders, Vincent Harding, a historian at Spelman College and friend of the King family, was asked by Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow, Coretta Scott King, to direct the work of the Martin Luther King Library Documentation Project. Her offer, made shortly after her husband's assassination in 1968, was accepted by Harding, but he recommended an independent research project that would support the spirit of the slain civil rights leader. Coretta Scott King agreed to support the project and subsequently what was then known as the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Advanced Afro-American Studies was born.
Harding's idea was shaped by the times in which it was devised. Major events were taking place in the late 1960s, events that had a direct and powerful impact on the African American community: the black power movement, the Vietnam War, student demands for Black Studies curriculums in education, urban uprisings in response not only to the King assassination but also to economic conditions within those urban areas, and a growing black middle class, among other phenomena. These events were changing the way African Americans viewed themselves, their communities, and America as a whole.
The W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for Advanced Afro-American Studies soon became known as the Institute of the Black World. The first governing board of the new endeavor, called the Advisory Council, consisted of prominent members of the African American community. These individuals represented diverse areas, such as academia, the arts, and various community groups. Members of the council included its chair, C. T. Vivian, Walter F. Anderson, Margaret Alexander, Lerone Bennett, Horace Mann Bond, Robert Browne, John Henrik Clarke, Dorothy Cotton, Ossie Davis, St. Claire Drake, Katherine Dunham, Vivian Henderson, Tobe Johnson, Julius Lester, Frances Lucas, Jesse Noel, Rene Piquion, Eleo Pomare, Pearl Primus, Benjamin Quarles, Bernice Reagon, William Strickland, Council Taylor, E. U. Essien-Udom, Charles White, and Hosea Williams.
As a research institution designed to create solutions to challenges faced by African people, the IBW staff was comprised of scholars who could interrogate the past, and the present, in an effort to shape the future through in-depth analysis of the people, places, and events that impacted African people globally. The research that they conducted was not done solely for the benefit of academia. All the research had to have practical implications both inside and outside of the academy. The cadre of scholars involved in the initial project represented various academic disciplines and interests. All, however, shared a sincere desire to better the overall condition and status of African people. The first full-time research staff members were Lerone Bennett, Christine Coleman, Chester Davis, Lonetta Gaines, Vincent Harding, Stephen Henderson, Joyce Ladner, Daulton Lewis, William Strickland, Sterling Stuckey, and Robert Browne. Associate scholars and lecturers closely associated with the work and mission of the IBW included C. L. R. James, Amiri Baraka, St. Clair Drake, Walter Rodney, Stokely Carmichael, Ella Baker, Alvin F. Poussaint, and Haywood Burns.
The work being done at the IBW headquarters in Atlanta was augmented by other institutions and groups, which helped to form a cooperative network of scholars who agreed with and fully supported the mission of the IBW. Among these were the African Heritage Studies Association (AHSA), Congress of African People (CAP), the Black Academy of Arts and Letters, Fisk University, Shaw University, Howard University, Dartmouth College, Wesleyan University, Brooklyn College, and Cornell University.
The goals listed below specify the actions through which the IBW planned to carry out its mission to provide research to support the struggle of African people worldwide. The IBW endeavored:
  1. to assist in the design and implementation of Black Studies curriculums
  2. to create cooperative relationships with institutions of higher learning, including both historically black colleges and predominately white colleges supportive of the aims of the IBW
  3. to conduct original research at the IBW headquarters and to teach courses that support the institute's mission
  4. to support African American artists, particularly those with an artistic vision tied to liberation, and expose their work both inside and outside of the academy
  5. to develop curriculums aimed at positively impacting the lives of African American children
  6. to create a center for social analysis of African American communities nationwide
  7. to create connections with African intellectuals and activists worldwide
  8. to train scholars to commit themselves not only to academic excellence within Black Studies but also to improving the communities represented in their research, as well as to give these scholars the techniques necessary to properly teach students both inside and outside of the academy
  9. to sponsor conferences where the results of directed research could be shared with the African American community, and to encourage individuals and groups with interests similar to the IBW's to participate in such events
  10. to create an independent means of publishing the findings of its research
These goals were the driving force behind the research conducted at the IBW from 1969 through 1983. Soon after the creation of the IBW, however, a review panel and many of the members of the council questioned whether its mission fit within the aims of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center where it was housed. The IBW's critics claimed that the organization, which had only hired black staff members, was too separatist; did not espouse nonviolence as King had; and did not uplift King's memory enough for it to be an appropriate part of a memorial center for the civil rights leader. Many in the Advisory Council put pressure on the IBW to change its direction, so in an effort to preserve its initial purpose, the IBW decided to separate from the King center in the fall of 1970. Thus the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center and the IBW became two separate entities. The King center then became a place where the work of King was studied exclusively. The IBW, in accordance with its stated mission, became a center of new ideas— ideas as diverse as the staff that created them. The work of the institute was in the study of ideas, not people and personalities. The strand that connected all the research at the institute was that it had to be designed to liberate African people worldwide. The research took the form of papers, conferences, and lectures from scholars both inside and outside of the IBW research staff. Some examples are as follows:
  • “Beyond Chaos: Black History and the Search for the New Land”
  • “The Black Family and Social Policy”
  • “Black Radicals in America”
  • “Black Repression in the Cities: An Analysis of Institutional Racism in the 70's”
  • “The Challenge of Blackness”
  • “A Critical Anthology of Blues Poetry”
  • “On the Need for a Black Revolutionary Theory”
  • “The Search for a Religion of Blackness”
  • “Toward a Theory of Black Political Economy”
The research conducted at the IBW was disseminated on site, through tape recordings of lectures made available to interested parties, through shared manuscript copies, and through the widely distributed “Black-World-View” column that tackled current events relevant to African Americans.
All the research conducted by the black scholars affiliated with the institute was to be used for the purpose of empowering the African community, and although it initially concentrated on the American experience, the research team eventually reflected the IBW's global perspective and reached out to people of color worldwide.
After separating from the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Center in 1970, the IBW struggled financially, lacking the big money donors of its former partner. Although never financially prosperous, the IBW nevertheless created a research environment where scholars of African descent were able to focus on such areas as education, the economy, and government, among others, in an effort to address pressing challenges faced by the African American communities that it served. In 1983 the IBW faced a financial shortfall that it could not overcome, resulting in the closing of its doors.

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Further Reading

  • Bennett, Lerone. (1970). The Challenge of Blackness [Pamphlet]. Atlanta, GA: Institute of the Black World. This is the first pamphlet released in the IBW's Black Paper series, and it provides information regarding the range of research interests held by the scholars at the IBW and how those interests were all connected to black liberation.
  • Institute of the Black World. (1969). Institute of the Black World: Statement of Purpose and Program. Atlanta, GA: Author. This document provides invaluable information regarding both the mission and research plan of the IBW.
  • Marable, Manning (Ed.). (2000). Dispatches from the Ebony Tower: Intellectuals Confront the African American Experience. New York: Columbia University Press. This collection of essays provides a look into the field of Black Studies, touching on many of the ideals that drove the research of the IBW.