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Black leaders, past and present, on Black economic empowerment

By A. Peter Bailey
Trice Edney Newswire

It is absolutely critical that we, as Black folks, get serious in 2014 about maximizing our economic potential in this country. We often swear we revere the guidance of illustrious ancestors and present-day wise persons who strive to give us direction on how to best promote and protect our individual and group interests in a society that is at best a lukewarm environment for us. The following observations from men and women who were/are committed to our empowerment must become guidelines for action in 2014 and beyond:

Carter G. Woodson, educator/historian/activist

“In the schools of business administration, Negroes are trained excessively in the psychology and economics of Wall Street and are, therefore, made to despise the opportunities to run ice wagons, push banana carts, and sell peanuts among their own people. Foreigners, who have not studied economics, but have studied Negroes, take up this business and grow rich.”

Mary McLeod Bethune, educator/activist

“I leave you the challenge of developing confidence in one another. This kind of confidence will aid the economic rise of the race by bringing together the pennies and dollars of our people and ploughing them into useful channels.”

W.E.B. DuBois, educator/activist

“The American Negro must remember that he is primarily a consumer; that as he becomes a producer, it must be at the demand and under the control of organized consumers and according to their wants; that in this way he can gradually build up the absolutely needed co-operation in occupations. Today, we work for others at wages pressed down to the limit of subsistence. Tomorrow, we may work ourselves, exchanging services, producing an increasing proportion of the goods that we consume and being rewarded by a living wage and by work under civilized conditions. This will call for self-control. It will eliminate the millionaire and even the rich Negro; it will put the Negro leader upon salary, which will be modest as American salaries go and yet sufficient for life under modern standards of decency and enjoyment. It will eliminate also the pauper and industrial derelict.”

Earl B. Dickerson, businessman/activist

“As more and more Blacks move into the middle class, they owe responsibility to the Black community. If Blacks go into the white community to get the know-how and then stay there, they are only pushing further away from possibilities of Blacks ever becoming economically sufficient. I call upon these young men and women to get the experience, to get the foundation, and, before they are too old, to move into the Black community to help Blacks achieve economic equality. The economic insufficiency in Black community can never be improved to any substantial extent merely by employing a few middle class Blacks… We’ve got to improve the purchasing power of the total community.”

Chancellor Williams, educator/activist

“The second great understanding should be that economic activities are so fundamental in any truly upward movement, so clearly indispensable at this stage in history it should be unnecessary to state it even. The still-existing slave mentality causes millions of us to shy away from these basics of life itself because it requires more initiative, training and work and less talk than politics.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., preacher/leader/activist

“….Black Power is also a call for the pooling of Black financial resources to achieve economic security. While the ultimate answer to the Negroes’ economic dilemma will be found in a massive federal program for all the poor along the lines of A. Philip Randolph’s Freedom Budget, a kind of Marshall Plan for the disadvantaged, there is something the Negro himself can do to throw off the shackles of poverty. Although the Negro is still at the bottom of the economic ladder, his collective annual income is upward $30 billion. This gives him a considerable buying power that can make the difference between profit and loss in many businesses. Through the pooling of such resources and the development of habits of thrift and techniques of wise investment, the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation. If Black Power means the development of this kind of strength within the Negro community, then it is a quest for basic, necessary, legitimate power.”

Marcus Garvey, leader/ activist

“The most important area for the exercise of independent effort is economic. After a people have established successfully a firm industrial foundation, they naturally turn to politics and society, but not first to society and politics, because the two latter cannot exist without the former.”

Harold Cruse, educator/activist

“The integrationists have always said a separate Negro economy in the United States is a myth. But is it really? The reason the debate on the Black economy has gone on back and forth for years, with no conclusions reached, is because the idea is closely linked with nationalism and the integrationists would rather be tarred and feathered than suspected of the nationalist taint. This was the great weakness of W.E.B DuBois — the only real flaw in the man’s intellectual equipment. DuBois upheld the idea of a separate Black economy as ‘not so easily dismissed’ because ‘in the first place, we have already got a partially separate economy in the United States.’

Yet he remarked in 1940, his economic program for Negro advance ‘can easily be mistaken for a program of complete racial segregation and even nationalism among Negroes … this is a misapprehension.’ It seems not to have occurred to DuBois that any thorough economic reorganization of Negro existence imposed from above, will not be supported by the popular masses unless an appeal is made to their nationalism.”

Brother Malcolm X, leader/teacher/activist

“Basically there are two kinds of power that count in America, economic and political, with social power deriving from those two. In order for Afro-Americans to control their destinies, they must be able to control and affect the decisions that control their destinies — economic, political, social. This can only be done through organization.”

James Clingman, economist/activist

“Economics is about empowerment, and our dollars should be used more wisely to that end. Politics is about self-interest, and our votes should reflect that truth. White politicians can help Black people just like Black politicians can. The same applies for white and Black capitalists. The question is: Will they? The best help is self-help, however. We must organize and rally around basic economic principles. And until we are really serious about playing the politics game, we must wean ourselves off the milk and pabulum of political dependence, and get on a steady diet of cooperative economics and mutual support.”

Rev. Earl Trent, pastor/activist

“An economic agenda is the central agenda of all politics, for it determines who gets a slice of the pie, who gets the crumbs and who gets nothing. The new agenda for Black America must consciously replace the social agenda with an economic agenda whose central focus is how we can improve the state of the Black economy.”

In response to the guidance offered by these wise leaders, every Black church, civic organization, fraternity, sorority, school, college and so on should host workshops focusing on achieving economic empowerment. Otherwise, most of us will continue to be the kind of person/people who, to paraphrase legendary educator Dr. Kelly Miller, pay for what we want and beg for what we need.

A. Peter Bailey is a journalist, lecturer and author of the recently published book, “Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher.” He can be reached at or 202.716.4560.


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