“So why can’t they finance Black Power?” Howard Lamar Fuller’s Fight for Black Control of Black Housing in North Carolina, 1965-1969


  • Anthony M. Donaldson Jr. Department of History, Sewanee: The University of the South, USA


Black Power, Howard Fuller, Housing, Black Capitalism.


By 1965, as the traditional civil rights movement waned in North Carolina, Howard Lamar Fuller emerged as a key figure in the “War on Poverty”. Through his leadership of Operation Breakthrough from 1965 to 1967, Fuller helped bring about a shift in political control of Black Durham from white and Black elites to poor Black residents by taking on the challenges of Black housing. In 1965, when Fuller was hired as a community organizer, Operation Breakthrough was passive, small, and white. Within two years, Fuller had made it “tough, massive, and black” (James V. Cunningham 1967, 157). Among its achievements, Fuller was responsible for events that led to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Thorpe v. Housing Authority of the City of Durham (1967). This that ruled tenants in public housing could not be evicted without due process, and caused the federal agency of Housing and Urban Development to issue a circular, directing federally assisted housing projects to “inform their tenants of the reasons for a lease termination prior to the termination and to provide a method by which a tenant might reply and offer an explanation”. While white media at the time created binaries between “conservative” and “militant” Black leaders, Fuller’s activism exposes the inadequacies of this conceptual framework. Scholars have yet to recognize how Fuller was a forerunner of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s antipoverty campaign, an activist who blended King’s vision of fighting poverty with the militant overtones associated with Black power and Malcolm X.