Sisyphus, in Iliad’s Greek Mythology, was condemned in Hades to repeatedly push a great rock uphill, over and over, only to have it roll back down each time. The story of Sisyphus is much like the Civil Rights movement. The enemy of equal rights won’t stop pushing it down, and the giants for equal rights, like W. E. B Dubois, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. Richard Allen, Richard Cain, Fannie Lou Hamer, and others, with faith, won’t stop pushing it up.
The Public Broadcasting System produced a series of productions on Black History, which included Education, The Black Church, and Post Civil War Black Businesses. It started with a look at President Lincoln’s plans for caring for blacks after the Civil war. After a meeting with a group of blacks, Lincoln decided to give land to the ex-slaves because that’s what they wanted.
The problem was that Lincoln gave rise to Reconstruction and a Freedman’s Bank, then he was assassinated and the reins of Government were turned over to Andrew Johnson, a devout racist. Johnson allowed the retaking of the land, the stealing and swindling of black people’s funds in the Freedman’s Bank, which had reached millions and, ultimately, reached over one billion dollars.
Blacks owned and operated numerous businesses including one man who owned eight barber shops, four for whites, and four for blacks. I have worked in such a shop where the customers were all white, the barbers were all black, and I was the shoe shine boy. This was in Bakersfield, California. The shop owner was a preacher who ultimately became the pastor of the city’s largest black Baptist church.
During Reconstruction, the blacks owned thousands of businesses including some prosperous grocery stores owned by a man named Moss. The stores came to an end when whites entered and took the owners out and shot them dead to stop them from making money. The stories were reported by Ida B. Wells in her newspaper, the Memphis Free Press. The events were also reported by Robert Abbot in his Newspaper, the Chicago Defender.
The Defender was best known for encouraging blacks to leave the Southern states and move to Chicago in what was called the Great Northern Drive. In Chicago, one black businessman, J. B. Stratten, owned a hotel and a theater. One Black Woman, Annie M. Pope, owned a hair care business called, Poro. One of her trainees was a lady named Madame C. J. Walker who took what she had learned and, ultimately, became America’s first female self-made millionaire. Other businesses that grew out of the period of 1916 included insurance companies like North Carolina Mutual, and black-owned banks including the birth of Maggie Walker’s Penny Bank. S.B. Fuller sold hair care and personal care products door to door and became a millionaire. When he purchased a white company and it was discovered by whites, the whites boycotted his companies and he ended up filing bankruptcy.
During this period John Johnson developed Ebony magazine and Jet magazine. A. G. Gatson opened a motel and a business school in Birmingham, Alabama, and Berry Gordy created a company, originally called Hitsville, that was changed to Motown. Gordy promoted artists that included Fats Domino, Stevie Wonder, and many other great black talents who made hundreds of millions of dollars.
In addition to magazines such as Ebony, Earl Graves created Black Enterprise Magazine and black politicians came into being. Those politicians included Mayors Maynard Jackson of Atlanta, Georgia, Harold Washington of Chicago, Thomas Bradley of Los Angeles.
Andrew Hatcher the first African American associate press secretary in the White House, under JFK in the 1960 campaign, and founder of 100 Black Men of America. Reginald Lewis used a leveraged buyout and purchased Beatrice foods and became a billionaire. He preceded Hip Hop billionaires including Jay Z and Sean Jean. Lewis died at age 50. Robert Smith, a Venture Capitalist is known for paying for students to graduate at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
This history of black businesses has been interrupted with occasional violence and some jealousy, but blacks are moving up, in spite of the jealousy and violence which looks like the violence portrayed in the U.S. Capitol.