“At least one Southern community survived the Great Depression quite well.
Ways Station was a whistle-stop hamlet some twenty miles south of Savannah that Henry Ford had spotted while on a train trip to Florida. He purchased the property that had been the site of an antebellum plantation house overlooking the Ogeechee River and constructed a winter home that he christened Richmond Hill. Eventually, he acquired some 85,000 acres of farm and timber land on which he constructed an experimental agricultural station. From 1929 through World War II, Ford made sure the residents of the community were well paid and cared for.
Another remarkable part of the story is that a periodic visitor to the Ford property was George Washington Carver, the renowned African American chemist from Tuskegee Institute whom Ford had visited and with whom he had corresponded. (Carver also traveled to Dearborn, Michigan, for visits and consultations with Ford.) They shared an interest in converting agricultural products to industrial purposes and later would even fashion an automobile body from soybeans.
The “rest of the story” is that Tuskegee Institute received generous support from Ford and from the Ford Foundation for many years thereafter. In 1981 Benjamin F. Payton, a Ford Foundation program officer, became the president of Tuskegee and held that position until 2010.
Excerpted from The Liberating Promise of Philanthropy, out now.