Professor Sues Wealthy Banker’s Widow and Accuses Her of ‘White Supremacy’ After She Froze $2.8M Funding for Charity
Emma James, Daily Mail, February 5, 2023
A black Columbia University professor is accusing the widow of a wealthy banker of ‘white supremacy’ after she pulled $2.8million worth of funding from a charity they set up together.
Dr Marti Slaten created the Harry T. Burleigh Society in 2017 with her then-student Lynne Foote to honor the musician.
The pair became friends because of their love for African-American music history, with Foote investing $2million into the charity in 2019.
Her donation was intended to set up concerts with Burleigh’s music and to help fund up-and-coming black musicians.
Slaten, the executive director, was one of two paid employees and also performed songs at concerts put on by the group.
But the two women had a major falling out in 2020, which resulted in Foote stepping down from her role as president of the society in 2021.
She claimed that the group was no longer fundraising or putting on concerts, and made a few suggestions on a new board chairperson who would have ‘sole access to the oversight and control of the endowment account’.
However legal documents submitted by Foote show that while she said she was leaving the group she wanted to continue her donations and support of the society.
She moved to Oxford in the UK to continue her historical research, and said in an email that she felt Slaten had implied she was ‘power hungry’ after the two women’s relationship soured.
It is unclear what the two women fell out about, but in an email addressing Slaten’s concerns, Foote said she ‘humbly learned of the ways my own deeply inculcated white supremacy and racism had manifested itself in our relationship.’
She added: ‘Though that was a painful thing to reckon with, I was grateful for the chance to grow in my awareness of how profoundly I’m still shaped by and respond in these oppressive ways.
‘And it felt like the ‘something’ in the air between us was finally understandable to me.’
Foote says was shocked when Slaten setup a new board, with a new director and treasurer and made herself the president.
Slaten is accused of extending her contract for three years, giving herself a 35 per cent raise, to $135,000, with a $1,500 monthly ‘personal wellness’ expense.
Initially she was paid $88,000 a year for 20 hours of work a week, as well as having an expense account and getting paid childcare.
Foote is claiming that she was caught ‘off-guard’ when Slaten asked the bank to remove her from the account so she could assume full control of the money – saying she just wanted to resign as president.
She froze the multi-million-dollar account which left several employees without their salary, and brought all society activity to a halt.
Her husband Steve Foote died after a battle with cancer in 2019, and was initially also on the board for the charity.
Following his death, Foote says that she took a step back and also made the move to the UK to continue her research for the charity.
Slaten created a new board, which Foote says are her ‘friends’ who have ‘no experience’ for the job – with the court case still rumbling on a year later.
The Columbia University professor ultimately resigned from her position – initially demanding a $600,000 severance payout – which she did not receive.
She received her yearly salary of $135k instead and has completely removed herself from society.
Dan McSwiggan, a lawyer for Foote told the Daily News: ‘The Harry T. Burleigh Society was co-founded and funded by Ms. Foote to uphold Mr. Burleigh’s legacy by highlighting innovative, Black classical musicianship through public performance and programs.’
‘Ms. Foote is proud of how much was accomplished, saddened that the work is no longer being done and remains deeply committed to ensuring that the Society’s funds be used in a manner consistent with its mission of uplifting Black art music.’
She also still considers herself a part of the board and wants to work with the group to fulfill the original mission of the society.
Alonzo Van Wilson, the board’s new director, said that Foote is ‘not a good leader’ and was not in compliance with New York state law for setting up the charity.
He said: ‘She’s tearing down an organization that she supposedly loves. Ms. Foote resigned, but then her attorney said you realize you left all this money on the table.
‘So now what really is the issue is she wants to get back on the board because she wants to control the money that she gave.
‘But if you donate money to an organization, that’s their money. You don’t get the money back.’