Much of the recent scholarship in critical philanthropy and humanitarianism focuses on the relationship between the origins of humanitarian governance and the development and expansion of imperialism. Imperial exploitation and dispossession were frequently linked in paradoxical ways with the protection and management of colonized populations. This paper explores these types of connections as they pertain to the relationship between humanitarianism, imperialism, and the governance of African Americans in the United States. I focus, in particular, on how humanitarian initiatives in Black education were mobilized in relation to differing moments of international and domestic colonialism, nation-building, national security, and global aspirations at the heart of American empire. The paper advances this line of inquiry through a genealogy of humanitarian reasoning and webs of belief about the proper intellectual development of African Americans in three historic moments of national development: the periods of Reconstruction, the Efficiency Movement, and Pax Americana. In each different context, philanthropic foundations and humanitarians sought to provide education to African Americans, who were disenfranchised and disconnected in different ways in each period. But although the specific moral reasoning and techniques of care employed in the provision of education were particular to time and place, the underlying rationalities of a ‘progressive imperial agenda’ connecting African American enfranchisement and connection to national development and imperial aspirations, was manifest. The paper employs a genealogical method in order to link the excavations of the past to the present, indicating some of the ways that these interconnected logics continue to affect humanitarianism in the United States today.
Key words: Humanitarianism, imperialism, education, race, philanthropy, genealogy