Assistant Professor of History
Jessica Ann Levy is a historian of modern America with interests in racism, capitalism, and politics at the local, national, and global level. My work explores how dynamic movements, including those demanding racial justice and an end to global apartheid, challenged and were ultimately incorporated into institutions representing the U.S. government and multinational corporations.
More About Me
Jessica is currently working on her first book, Black Power, Inc.: Corporate America, Race, and Empowerment Politics in the U.S. and Africa, under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press. Combining insights and modes of analysis from the history of capitalism, business history, political history, critical race studies, transnational history and African Studies, Black Power, Inc. brings together two narratives central to late twentieth century history, yet, which have hitherto remained largely separate in the literature: the history of the global Black Power movement and the transnational rise of free-market politics. It does so through revealing the financial, ideological, and political investments made by government officials, corporate executives, and black activist-entrepreneurs in black empowerment politics. Defined as private and public programs promoting job training, community development, and black entrepreneurship, black empowerment increasingly supplanted more radical demands for economic justice and reparations amid the late twentieth century transition from Jim Crow to a post-apartheid global economy. In the process, she shows how advocates of black empowerment appropriated older intellectual traditions, including Christian uplift and a patriarchal African traditionalism, and gave them new life through associating them with skills—entrepreneurship, managerialism—touted as the keys to success in a globalizing economy. Aided by the U.S. government and U.S. corporations, black empowerment ventures have become a hallmark of the post-Jim Crow/post-colonial policy landscape governing black communities from North Philadelphia to Soweto. By centering private capital alongside state power, Black Power, Inc. furthermore explains how American capitalism profited from black militancy, racial liberalism, and the seeds of political conservatism that blossomed within the global black freedom struggle.
Her research has been supported by the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the UVA Center for Global Inquiry + Innovation, the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, the Hagley Library, the German Historical Institute, the Johns Hopkins Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, as well as numerous libraries. Prior to coming to Purchase, she held postdoctoral research associate positions with the Democracy Initiative’s Corruption Lab on Ethics, Accountability, and the rule of Law, and the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University.
In addition to publishing in scholarly venues, she regularly contributes to public dialogue through popular publications like The Washington Post, Black Perspectives, and Public Seminar. I am the host of Who Makes Cents, a monthly podcast devoted to sharing quality, engaging stories that explain how capitalism has changed over time. Follow me on Twitter @jessicaannlevy.
HIS 1205: Development of the United States II
HIS 3105: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1898
HIS 3466: To Enjoy Our Freedom: African American History since the Civil War
Black Power, Inc.: Corporate America, Race, and Empowerment Politics in the United States and Africa (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Politics and Culture in Modern America Series). Under contract.
Works in Progress
Edited with B. Alex Beasley, Capitalism in the American Century: Toward a Global History of Postwar America. In preparation.
Articles and Book Chapters
“Black Power in the Board Room: Leon Sullivan and the Corporate Anti-Apartheid Response,” Enterprise & Society, vol. 21, no. 1 (March 2020): 170-209.
**Honorable Mention for the 2021 Mira Wilkins Prize (BHC)
“Selling Atlanta: Black Mayoral Politics from Protest to Entrepreneurism, 1973 to 1990,” Journal of Urban History, vol. 41, no. 3 (May 2015): 420-443.
“Rock ‘n’ Roll and the Birth of Czechoslovakian Civil Society in the Sixties” in Political and Social Movements during the Sixties and Seventies in the Americas and Europe, Avital H. Bloch, ed. (Colima, Mexico: University of Colima Press, 2011): 109-129.
Review of Zeb Larson, “The Sullivan Principles: South Africa, Apartheid, and Globalization,” Diplomatic History, vol. 44, no. 3 (June 2020): 479-503, in H-Diplo, November 19, 2020.
Review of Nan Enstad, Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism (University of Chicago Press, 2018) in Enterprise & Society, vol. 21, no 2 (June 2020): 555-557.
Review of Nicholas Grant, Winning Our Freedom Together: African Americans and Apartheid, 1945-1960 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), in Black Perspectives, October 5, 2018.
Review of Robert E. Weems, Jr. and Jason P. Chambers, eds., Building the Black Metropolis: African American Entrepreneurship in Chicago (University of Illinois Press, 2017), in Business History Review, vol. 92, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 166-168.
WRITING FOR BROAD AUDIENCES
“Thinking with (Neo-)Colonialism in ‘Race for Profit,’ Roundtable on Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s Race for Profit, Black Perspectives, March 11, 2021.
“Activism is the key to protecting worker health as we reopen America,” The Washington Post, Made by History, June 15, 2020.
“On the Limits of Boycotts as a Political Tool,” Black Perspectives, March 14, 2018.
“A Troubled Past: The United States and Africa since World War II,” Black Perspectives, February 16, 2018.
“Good corporate citizenship won’t end racism: The NFL must do more,” The Washington Post, Made by History, October 8, 2017.
“Donald Trump’s Old Deal for Black America,” Black Perspectives, January 29, 2017.
“Corporate America Alone Cannot Save Us from Trump,” Public Seminar, August 18, 2017.