Photo Source: PBS
(BALTIMORE – April 27, 2019) – The history of African Americans in business is one of the most compelling stories in the world. To see a people endure the horrors of slavery only to emerge stronger, wiser, and smart enough to succeed in business even in the midst of hostile territory is a story of trials but also triumphs. Such business success requires – at minimum – courage, faith and skill.
PBS’ recently released documentary, “Boss: The Black Experience in Business”, makes me entirely proud of the accomplishments of our ancestors. Unfortunately, it is not a story we hear about often enough.
Personally, I think it should be a part of the American education curriculum because it not only informs, it also inspires. In a nation where African Americans are considered “super users”, the most likely to go shopping, this awesome piece of media sheds light on the other side of the counter, if you will.
Sure, Black people like designer names and our stars flaunt expensive cars, but there is another side to the tale that deserves attention. Countless African American entrepreneurs have put it all on the line just to succeed in business. Some failed, but many succeeded. We even have millionaires in our collective story, like William Leidesdorff in San Francisco.
Cathy Hughes, the black woman radio and TV titan, is featured in the documentary. So, too, are other notables with similarly inspiring journeys.
At the end of the day, entrepreneurship meant a certain level of freedom for the victors and their families. To create one’s own business with a plan in mind, to open shops and factories, to make one’s own hours and chart out a path for future generations – this was the mindset of many African Americans, even during slavery. (Yes, there were viable black businesses in operation in the midst of slavery; not all blacks were enslaved; and even slaves were operating entrepreneurial endeavors).
Names like C. R. Patterson come to mind. His family was the first of African descent to create an automobile in America back in 1915 under the name C. R. Patterson & Sons Company; interestingly, Ford Motor Company was established by Henry Ford in 1903 and their first automobile, the Model T, was produced in 1908. Patterson is featured in the documentary. For a former slave to be a few minutes away from the same trajectory as a white man speaks volumes to our abilities as a people.
I tell you, there are just so many nuggets of information, I’m sure the serious-minded will watch it more than once.
Lastly, let me just put a plug in for our ORIGINAL Black Wall Street SERIES *NYC *MD *DC *ATL *NOLA featuring the Joe Manns Black Wall Street Award where we have recognized over 1,400 individuals since 2011 in five American cities who are either entrepreneurs or supporters of black-owned businesses. This documentary, to say the least, is so eternally meaningful to our efforts to encourage entrepreneurship. While www.BMORENEWS.com has been actively involved in every election since our inception in 2002, I have concluded that – if I had to choose where to put my efforts first – I’d easily choose business over politics.
Business is the backbone of any economy. This is America where the almighty dollar is a necessity. And so, as opposed to seeing African Americans supporting every nonblack brand in the world, I’d much rather see us opening businesses and selling our own brands. With the money, we can hire our own lobbyists to promote our own agenda. Sadly, the more effort we put into politics, the less we put into self-determination efforts enunciated by the likes of John Russworm (first black newspaper publisher), Annie Malone (mentor to Madam C.J. Walker), Marcus Garvey (started a shipping company) and Rev. Leon Sullivan (built first black shopping mall in Philadelphia).
When I think of the genre of Hip hop, for instance, we have made millions for nonblack companies. However, we haven’t put the same energy into supporting black brands created by black people. Something is fundamentally wrong with this equation. We have a trade imbalance that must be corrected because, more than anything, it’s common sense.
For too long, we, as a community, have lost sight of the way the game is played. It’s just like being on an airplane. Invariably, the stewardess will tell you before the plane takes off that in case of emergency, we are to put our oxygen mask on first. Instead, we have been putting the oxygen mask on the person beside us, and consequently, we die.
I pray that this documentary will inspire at least one black boy and one black girl out there to dream beyond their immediate circumstances. Honestly, I pray that a million future entrepreneurs are touched by this wonderful work, and more importantly, that they will pass on these lessons to generations yet unborn.
Great job, PBS, on creating an incredible presentation about the black experience in American business! SEE DOCUMENTARY