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CLINGMAN: Heeding the Messages of our Ancestors

James Clingman | 6/19/2013, 3 p.m.
You would think that since the end of slavery and through the ensuing years Black people in this country would ...
James Clingman

You would think that since the end of slavery and through the ensuing years Black people in this country would be further along in our economic evolution than we are today. You would think there would be no need for the economic empowerment messages that other columnists and I write about on a regular basis. You would think Black children of the 21st century would be sitting pretty right about now, considering all we have been taught and all we have been through in our economic struggle since we were fired – I mean freed.

As I read the powerful words of our ancestors, both men and women, I hear the very same messages coming from them over 100 years ago. I hear them saying to our people who lived during that time, “Let’s build our own businesses,” “Seek for ourselves,” “Save our money and work together.” “Be producers.” It goes on and on.

The question that arises is: Why haven’t we heeded the messages of our ancestors? We are still trying to implement some of the economic principles they lived by many years ago. They had far fewer resources than we have today; they were quite limited when it came to transportation, communication, and education. Yet they developed and followed principles that if practiced today, would propel us toward the reality of true freedom.

A collective effort that should have been a natural evolution from generation to generation, among Black people, has now become a much-needed revolution. Our economic demise is the direct result of a lack of evolution. If we had followed the natural path of economic growth for Black people in this country, from the early 1900s until today, we would have evolved into one of the most powerful groups in the entire world. All we have instead is the dubious recognition of having an annual income that, if we were a country, would make us the tenth largest in the world.

There was a time, John Sibley Butler’s “Economic Detour” premise notwithstanding, when Black businesses flourished, even without access to the general market. The National Negro Business League, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and other Black business organizations helped create not only new entrepreneurs, they also stimulated a Black business psyche that encouraged our people to support one another, to do for ourselves, and to work for economic self-sufficiency.

I hear so much talk about an “economic revolution” for Black people. Unfortunately, “revolution” in this case deals more with “revolving” than it does with “revolt.” It simply means that we are getting back to a point where we were before, as in a circle. Are we running in circles when it comes to economic empowerment? I truly hope not. Economic revolution must be conceived and grounded in “overturning” our situation, not “returning” to it.

Black business is not a revolutionary idea; it is an evolutionary construct that moves from an infancy stage through various growth periods and cycles, and eventually becomes a Johnson Publishing Co. and a Motown. Evolution would have moved us from the models we saw in Durham, N.C., Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other cities, to a $1 trillion business segment rather than the current $150 billion segment we have today.