African American Business, Entrepreneurship and the Commerce Department: Records of the Office of the Secretary's Advisor on Negro Affairs, 1940-1953

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The need for economic development has been a central element of black life. After centuries of unrequited toil as slaves, African Americans gained their freedom and found themselves in the struggle to make a living. Black codes often prevented blacks from owning land in towns and cities, and in the countryside they were often denied the opportunity to purchase land. Organized labor shut their doors to their brethren. In the South, whites sought to insure that blacks would only be sharecroppers and day labors, and in the North whites sought to keep them as unskilled labor.

Pushing against the odds, African Americans became landowners, skilled workers, small businessmen and women, professionals, and ministers. In the Jim Crow economy, they started insurance companies, vocational schools, teachers colleges, cosmetic firms, banks, newspapers, and hospitals. They started their own unions and professional associations. In an age in which individuals proved unable to counter industrialization alone, they preached racial or collective uplift rather than individual self-reliance.

Emmer Martin Lancaster was appointed adviser for the Division of Negro Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Commerce on May 25, 1940. The division had been established in 1933. Lancaster filled a vacancy created by the resignation of Eugene Kinckle Jones. The National Negro Business advisory Council was formed to serve the Division of Negro Affairs. These records include correspondence with insurance companies owned and operated by Blacks, 1942 to 1953; correspondence with banks owned and operated by Blacks, 1942 to 1953; correspondence with Black lending institutions, 1942-1943; and correspondence and reports pertaining to Conferences on the Negro Business, 1940-1953.

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Source note: RG 40, General Records of the Department of Commerce, Records of the Office of the Secretary, Records of the Advisor on Negro Affairs, 1940-1963, NC...