History of Black Economic Development

  • Published
  • By Colonel Rickey Rodgers
  • 509th Bomb Wing Vice Commander
The achievements of this nation are not due to one specific race, one defined color, one gender based on physical strength, one proclaimed religion, or a particular social/economic background.

These achievements are supported by the untold stories of men and women that battled against social injustice, or remain vigilant to insure the essence of democracy is shared with all instead of a few. Our military has played a very important role in this area.

On 6 February 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson initiated the celebration of "Negro History Week", for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Dr. Woodson was one of the first scholars to value and study Black History. He acknowledged and was proactive in sharing to all people about having an awareness and knowledge of their contributions to humanity and left behind an impressive legacy

What was life like in 1926? There were 107 million people in America. Life expectancy for whites was 53.6 years (male) and 54.6 years (female).
The average annual earning was $1,236. According to US national record archives, the life expectancy for an African Americans was 43 years (male) 45 years (female). The annual income of an African American male was $600 a year. Still, there were 30 African American banks with resources totaling $13 million dollars.

There were over 74,424 African-American businesses in the United Stated from 1920-1929. There were 345,000 men serving on active duty in the Army, Navy and Marines.

It took 13 days to travel from New York City to Los Angeles, California, and there was only 387,000 miles of paved roads.

Why cite statistics from over 80 years ago? Well, as a nation, each of us needs to understand why we observe African American History Month. The name recognizes those of African heritage.

Yet, it is American History - your history and mine. Woodson once stated that "Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history."

As we come to a close of the celebration, this year's theme, the History of Black Economic Empowerment focused on the contributions of African American men and women. This group has made great economic advancements.

These advancements have benefited our entire society and I think it appropriate for us to know a bit of that history.

· From about the A.D. 300's to 1591, three highly developed black empires controlled all or most of the Western Sudan. They were Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Their economy was based on farming, mining gold, and on trade with Arabs of northern Africa.

· By 1621, African American Virginians earned enough money to purchase land in Virginia counties. As a result of this investment, those former indentured servants made their money by growing and cultivating tobacco and rice. Some of these entrepreneurs were Anthony and John Johnson. They owned land along with black and white indentured servants in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

· Domingo Antony owned a parcel of land in New Amsterdam (known today as New York City) as early as 1634. In 1644, African Americans received a large land grant on a swamp in the New Amsterdam settlement known today as Greenwich Village and Washington Square. This site remained a black settlement for two centuries.

· In the late 1800's, an African American monopoly existed in the hair dressing industry. The most noted hairdresser during this era was Pierre Toussaint. He came to New York City from Haiti in 1878 and became wealthy in this profession. Toussaint funded money to build a new Roman Catholic Church (known as old Saint Patrick's Cathedral) in New York City. His home served as a refugee for priests, orphans and poverty stricken travelers in the city. In 1996 Toussaint was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II, the second step toward sainthood.

· Thomas Lafon of Louisiana was a real estate magnet in the Parish of New Orleans in 1860. He amassed a fortune in real estate worth $500,000. This led to the settlement of 18,000 freed African Americans permanent residence in the city. Together these freed African Americans owned $15 million in taxable property.

· Prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the total real and personal wealth of free African Americans was $50 million. In addition, freed men and women owned 9,000 homes 15,000 farms and 2,000 businesses. Even with discriminatory federal, state, and municipal laws banning ownership, commerce and trade practice, riots in major cities, the economic growth was visible.

· During the post Civil War era, equality in the workplace was a higher priority in the military than in other segments of society. By the end of the war 186,000 black soldiers and sailors (134,000 of whom had been recruited from slave states) had served in Union forces.

· In 1877, Henry Flipper became the first African American to graduate from West Point. African-American military officers were some of the first of their race to experience economic empowerment. This was a cornerstone event for our military and the creation of an African American middle class

· In 1948, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 integrating the Armed Services for people of all races, religions, or national origins. The integration of the military was the spark which ignited the Civil Rights Movement from the 1950s and into the early 1970s.

From its early days, the military established an environment where African Americans could serve with honor and be empowered economically. The military demonstrated a social consciousness not seen in other parts of society and established an operating environment blind to differences of class and color. Today, our Air Force continues to build on that model.