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Date: Feature Week of September 26, 2004
Topic: Black Press Business/Economic
Author: William Reed
Article ID: article_ema092604

REVISING EFFORTS OF THE WIZARD OF TUSKEGEE

The National Business League Still Helping Black Business

The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend a dollar in an opera-house. - Booker T. Washington, 1900

 The African American community has yet to build up its supply of capital into the critical mass needed to make a substantial impact on the national society and economy.  Although other ethnic groups have been successful in building capial and social and political clout, contemporary leaders have to emerge that help blacks change their attitudes and practices regarding money management, savings, investments and consumerism based on Booker T. Washington’s thesis: "Blacks should leave political and civil rights alone in order to make a businessman of the Negro."

 Activities in the 20th Century have proven Washington right about the ability to achieve economic successes based on strong ethnic ties.  Instead of distancing themselves from each other, as have contemporary blacks, American immigrant ethnic groups – Jews, Arabs and Asians – used cultural identity as a positive force; inspiring trust and mutual dependence to gain phenomenal successes in business.  In the past century, these groups not only expanded the American economic pie, but have become bedrocks of America’s economy.

 Booker T. Washington organized the National Negro Business League in 1900 to promote "commercial, agricultural, educational, and industrial advancement ... and the commercial and financial development of the Negro."  He wanted the League to encourage blacks to start their own businesses.  Washington reasoned this would lead blacks to rights to vote and due process of law.  The League's membership included successful black businessmen (and women) and professionals and a large number of the black middle class "strivers" wanting to start their own businesses.

 Margaret Clifford, Washington's granddaughter, notes that her grandfather also encouraged women to develop business skills: "He started the National Business League in Tuskegee so people could learn how to start a business, make it develop and prosper and make a profit.  When I went to high school, even though he had been dead for some years, his educational practices were still in practice. They explored all the trades.  The girls explored cooking, sewing and handicrafts the first two years, and the last two years they specialized."

 The NNBL operated through state and local chapters, many of which were located in the South.  League meetings were held to allow small businessmen to make contact with each other, and share stories of their struggles and successes.  Because of the enormous growth of Black-owned banks, there was a consequent growth of Black businesses with receipts in the millions of dollars from products sold primarily to the Black consumer market.  This couldn't have materialized without the capital and credit Black banks provided that white-owned financial institutions were not willing to give.

 Between 1888 and 1934, 134 Black banks were established.  From 1867 through 1917, the number of Black businesses increased from 4,000 to 50,000.  In 1929, the two largest Black-owned banks had nearly $4 million in deposits.  There were more than 200 Black newspapers being published in 1900, and by 1920 there were almost 75,000 Black businesses.  These activities prompted successful black business districts, known as Black Wall Streets, located in Durham, North Carolina and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 October 6 – 8, 2004, the NBL and the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) will host the 9th Annual Booker T. Washington Economic Development Summit at Tuskegee University in Alabama.  The theme of the Summit is: “Entrepreneurship and Business Development: Making a Difference in Minority Communities”.  Organizers say the Summit will focus on programs, initiatives and legislation that promote expansion of gross receipts and profits for small and minority businesses. 

 The NBL’s current president, Ron Evans, says: “We continue to revisit the historical and philosophical perspectives of Booker T. Washington and focus on entrepreneurship and business development as the means for African Americans and to enjoy economic and political parity.  We have direct channels to high-ranking government officials in the MBDA and are helping individuals, organizations, and institutions toward empowerment through knowledge acquisition, networking for entrepreneurship, all while, promoting the whole-community approach to economic development.”

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© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com

 

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