Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-x

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Introduction

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pp. 1-26

One story regarding the founding of Chicago states that the city’s name is derived from the Potawatomi term for “let’s make a deal.” Although the Encyclopedia of Chicago disputes this assertion, it states that “economic and business concerns have not merely shaped but [have] determined Chicago’s destiny.”1 Significantly, in the context of the present volume, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable, a person of African descent, is regarded as simultaneously being Chicago’s first permanent non–Native American inhabitant and its first entrepreneur. Although much of DuSable’s life remains unknown, his entrepreneurial prowess is well documented....

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1. Early Black Chicago: Entrepreneurial and Business Activities from the Frontier Era to the Great Migration: The Nexus of Circumstance and Initiative

Christopher Robert Reed

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pp. 27-43

To the credit of black initiative and indomitability of spirit, early black Chicago’s entrepreneurial and business evolution proceeded along a parallel, yet somewhat submerged, track with the city’s overall economic growth and development. This was the case even though black business operations in a frontier setting scarcely forecast the twentieth century’s partially realized “Dream of the Black Metropolis,” where African Americans exerted some control over their residential and commercial district. Nevertheless, black Chicagoans’ nineteenth-century entrepreneurial pursuits served as a bridge and precursor to more accelerated commercial activity during the next millennium....

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2. Robert Sengstacke Abbott, 1868–1940

Myiti-Sengstacke Rice

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pp. 44-60

During the first half of the twentieth century, Chicago newspaperman Robert Sengstacke Abbott became a publishing and journalistic giant. Beginning in 1905 the Georgia migrant transformed a four-page, “hand-bill size” publication with an initial investment of 25 cents into a prosperous modern newspaper. The first run of the Chicago Defender was 300 copies with a newsstand cost of two cents. To Abbott’s credit, “the Defender was published continuously without missing an issue for the next fifty years.”1

Yet success was never guaranteed for either Abbott or the Defender, especially during this first of three phases of the paper’s evolution. From 1905 to the advent...

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3. The Rise and Fall of Jesse Binga, a Black Chicago Financial Wizard

Robert Howard

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pp. 61-79

There is an aphorism that states, “When the American economy catches a cold, the black community catches pneumonia.” This chapter will demonstrate how this truism affected the life of Chicago banker Jesse Binga. Binga, a late nineteenth-century migrant to the Windy City, was an extremely self-confident (if not arrogant) individual whose personality helped him evolve from an itinerant street peddler into a powerful real estate mogul and banker. At the same time, Binga became known for his philanthropic interests and intense desire to enhance the economic status of Chicago’s African American community. Yet, perhaps ironically, Binga’...

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4. Contested Terrain: P. W. Chavers, Anthony Overton, and the Founding of the Douglass National Bank

Robert E. Weems, Jr.

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pp. 80-98

Anthony Overton is widely regarded as one of the most significant African American entrepreneurs of the early twentieth century. For instance, the Harvard University Business School’s database of “American Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century” lists him as the first African American to head a major business conglomerate.1 Traditionally, Anthony Overton has been credited with starting the Douglass National Bank, one of the cornerstones of his Chicago-based financial empire. Yet Madrue Chavers-Wright, in her 1985 book The Guarantee: P. W. Chavers: Banker, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist in Chicago’s Black Belt of the Twenties, declares her...

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5. King of Selling: The Rise and Fall of S. B. Fuller

Clovis E. Semmes

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pp. 99-121

S. B. Fuller was one of the most successful African American businessmen of the twentieth century, basing his commercial empire in Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community on the South Side. Fuller’s business model was door-to-door/direct sales of personal and beauty care items. Initially, a racially segregated political, social, and economic structure restricted Fuller’s markets to black consumers. However, from his core business of direct sales to blacks, Fuller generated the cash to purchase and invest in other companies, which included franchisee relationships. This enabled Fuller to diversify his product line and expand his core...

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6. A Master Strategist: John H. Johnson and the Development of Chicago as a Center for Black Business Enterprise

Jason P. Chambers

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pp. 122-146

If you used a list of someone’s youth experiences to predict future millionaires, John Harold Johnson would not have made the cut. He and his mother arrived in Chicago having fled the life limitations in their home state of Arkansas for the possibilities exhibited in the new city. Although opportunities for blacks were not necessarily overflowing in Chicago, there were certainly more there than in Arkansas. So they went. Recalling his departure from the train that brought him as a fifteen-year-old boy to the city with his mother, John Johnson said that he “stood transfixed on the street. I had never seen so many Black people before. I had never seen so many tall...

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7. Jim Crow Organized Crime: Black Chicago’s Underground Economy in the Twentieth Century

Will Cooley

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pp. 147-170

J. Levert “St. Louis” Kelly was an entrepreneurial gangster of the first rate. During his career in Chicago from the 1910s through the 1940s, he dabbled in gambling, pimping, and political fixing. Lean and dapper, with piercing eyes and a hardearned knife-wound scar on the back of his neck, he carried a Luger in the front of his trousers, which he brandished frequently. According to journalist Frank Marshall Davis, he wanted to be “the toughest man on the South Side.”1 In addition to his vice activities, Kelly presided over two unions. The legitimate retail clerks local engaged in civil-rights struggles, bolstering Kelly’s “race man” credentials....

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8. The Politics of the Drive-Thru Window: Chicago’s Black McDonald’s Operators and the Demands of Community

Marcia Chatelain

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pp. 171-190

The McDonald’s restaurant at 6550 Stony Island Avenue, in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, resembles most of the fast-food chain’s thousands of U.S. outlets, except for a simple square plaque embedded in the reddish-brown facade. The marker announces: “On December 21, 1968, this location was franchised to the first African American Owner and Operator.” The plaque honors Herman Petty, a local barber and Chicago Transit Authority bus driver who suddenly entered the burger business months after one of the city’s most troubling times.1 Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination ignited rioting and violence on Chicago streets and...

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9. Positive Realism: Tom Burrell and the Development of Chicago as a Center for Black-Owned Advertising Agencies

Jason P. Chambers

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pp. 191-211

For many people, New York City’s Madison Avenue is the idealized “home” of the advertising industry. Beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, agencies began establishing offices on the street to service their clients in the expanding metropolis. So, despite the work of agencies in cities like Chicago and Philadelphia, by the middle of twentieth century, “Madison Avenue” became the geographical shorthand used to reference the advertising industry.

In contrast, the center of the African American–owned agency sector has been in Chicago. Like their counterparts in the black newspaper and magazine fields...

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10. Oprah Winfrey: The Tycoon

Juliet E. K. Walker

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pp. 212-233

In 1998 Oprah Winfrey, who has won fame, prominence, and celebrity as the world’s leading television talk-show host, was selected by Time magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.” Beginning in 1985 with The Oprah Winfrey Show, she built a financial empire. As she tactically expanded her unparalleled abilities in hosting an award-winning television talk show, Oprah emerged as a leading entrepreneur in the television entertainment and communications industries. Indeed, in 1998 Oprah was also awarded an Emmy for Lifetime Achievement. Doubtless, at the dawn of the new millennium, this phenomenal African American...

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11. Racial Desegregation and Black Chicago Business: The Case Studies of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company and the Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company

Robert E. Weems, Jr.

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pp. 234-250

In 1947 Scott’s Blue Book, a Chicago African American business directory, featured 338 pages of advertisements and stories related to local African American enterprise. This publication not only praised the impressive diversity of black-owned businesses in the Windy City, but suggested that Black Chicago’s business community could grow even bigger with the active support of the city’s black consumers. Despite the decidedly upbeat tone of the 1947 edition of Scott’s Blue Book, another 1947 publication suggested that the future of black business in Chicago and elsewhere was bleak. Edward Franklin Frazier’s 1947 essay “Human, All Too Human:...

Contributors

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pp. 251-254

Index

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pp. 255-266