Atelier 6, article 1

© excerpt taken from From Slavery to Freedom (Seventh Edition, 1994) :
by John Hope Franklin

But in the last quarter of the twentieth century, there could be little doubt that an African-American middle class was growing in both size and influence. To the minister, lawyer, teacher, and physician could now be added the civil servant in the upper ranks, the retail clerk in a variety of mercantile establishments, the banker, the corporate manager, the media producer, the publisher of books and periodicals, the account executive, and the elected official. Although many of them served the black community primarily or exclusively, an increasing number had "made it" in the white world. The magazine Black Enterprise took pride each year in recognizing the top 100 businesses owned and/or controlled by African Americans, but it did not neglect those who were moving up in the white corporate world. There were bankers such as Lucius Gregg of Chicago’s First National and financial consultants such as former Federal Reserve Board Governor Andrew Brimmer, whose firm enjoyed enormous influence among some of the country’s most powerful businesses.

As early as the late eighteenth century there had been a few black possessing great wealth. From the end of World War II to the end of the 1970s the number of affluent blacks increased markedly. Millionaires could be found in traditional pursuits such as insurance, banking, manufacturing, publishing, and retail enterprises. But they could also be found in the world of entertainment and sports. By 1980 it was not unusual for black athletes, especially basketball, football, and baseball players to sigh multiple-year contracts running into the millions, and even a few boxers aspired to make a fraction of the millions that Muhammad Ali earned as heavyweight boxing champion. ...

African Americans also entered the white business world in increasing numbers. Realizing, apparently, that the 100 leading black businesses listed annually by Black Enterprise were not even in the same league with the Fortune 500 as far as financial strength and power were concerned, they went in to the white world of banking, mercantile establishments, manufacturing, high-tech industries, transportation, fast food, and a variety of service agencies. Some moved up to managerial positions and even served as vice presidents. Although most remained below the policy-making level, in sheer numbers they augmented significantly the group known as the black middle class. Some of the more skilled and gifted of the black executives in the white corporate world began to feel that there were clearly defined limits beyond which they could not go, regardless of their abilities. Reluctantly reaching the conclusion that the business world was not color blind, they began to leave their companies to establish businesses of their own or to open consulting firms that served whites as well as blacks. ...

[In the 1980s, Jesse] Jackson became the self-appointed black ambassador to the white business community, gently threatening to boycott selected firms if they did not more toward parity for blacks. In August 1981, the Coca-Cola Company was the first to sign an agreement to increase its benefits to the black community. It agreed to spend $14 million with minority vendors, and within a year it had exceeded its goal by more than 22 percent. It also sold thirty-two fountain-syrup distributorships and set a goal to increase the management staff from 5 percent black to 12.5 percent. Similar agreements were reached with Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Southland Corporation, Anheuser-Busch, Seven-Up, and Burger King. When the CBS-TV affiliate in Chicago replaced a black anchorman with a white one who had returned after a stint in New York, Jackson organized a boycott of the station that was eminently successful; the Chicago station even named a black manager in 1986. This convinced Jackson and many others that by careful planning and targeting, blacks could secure a larger share of job opportunities and economic power than they had ever had.