Why Aren't Black Business Tycoons Celebrated During Black History Month?


Mr. Matthews, PhD, is the Director of the Business Leadership Program at the University of Puget Sound, where he teaches the course “Black Business Leadership: Past & Present.” He is the author of Alanson B. Houghton: Ambassador of the New Era (2004).

It’s February and that means it’s Black History Month, a designated time to commemorate and celebrate black contributions to American society. Unfortunately, the historic achievement of African American businesspeople is too often neglected this month, and every month.

For more than two decades, a number of historians, led largely by the pathbreaking scholarship of Professor Juliet E.K. Walker of the University of Texas, have been working to expand our knowledge of the rich tradition of black entrepreneurs, managers, and corporate executives. Too few people, including U.S. historians, have taken notice.

This historical neglect might have changed after last year, which witnessed the passing of one of the greatest entrepreneurs in American history. John Harold Johnson, the grandson of slaves, rose from Depression-era Arkansas roots to reach to the pinnacle of commercial success. By 1982 he had earned a place on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans--the first African American so recognized. By the time of his death, at the age of eighty-seven, his fortune was thought to exceed half a billion dollars.

Johnson’s business career began in 1936 when he accepted a part-time position wth the black-owned Supreme Life Insurance Company of Chicago. In 1942, using his mother’s furniture as collateral for a loan and advance proceeds from charter subscribers, he began his storied entrepreneurial career by creating the monthly news magazine Negro Digest. Three years later, he launched the legendary Ebony magazine, and in 1951 he began publishing the pocket-sized newsweekly Jet. By 1955, Johnson was an established millionaire and his publishing company reported a combined circulation of 2.6 million.

Of course what makes Johnson’s success story even more remarkable is that he, like other black entrepreneurs and businesspeople, was forced to overcome severe racism. Early on, for example, when he approached First National Bank of Chicago for a business loan, he was told “Boy, we don’t make any loans to colored people.” Years later, a white property owner refused to sell his office building to Johnson because he was black. Undeterred, Johnson hired a white attorney to act surreptitiously on his behalf and he proceeded to buy the property at fair market value.

Another obstacle was convincing white advertising agencies and corporate executives to advertise in Johnson’s magazines. He found some limited success with the companies Chesterfield and Kotex, but the significant financial breakthrough came in 1947 when this consummate salesman attracted the loyalty of Eugene F. McDonald, Zenith Radio’s president, who not only bought major blocks of advertising but also encouraged other major corporations to do the same. As a result, business historian Robert Weems argues that Johnson “emerged as the major intermediary between corporate America and black consumers.” Many years later, Johnson joined Zenith’s board of directors.

Clearly Johnson was an ambitious capitalist, but he also was committed to both black economic empowerment and to enhancing the image of African Americans in the media. Over decades, Johnson employed and trained thousands of black Americans and he supported the activities of many black entrepreneurs, especially those in the advertising industry. On a broader scale, the eminent psychologist and Civil Rights leader Kenneth B. Clark concluded that “It is almost impossible to measure the morale-building value of [Ebony]. The mere fact of its existence and success has been an inspiration to the Negro masses.”

John Johnson’s business activities extended beyond magazine publishing and real estate investments. He owned multiple radio stations, sponsored several television shows, and manufactured hair care products. In 1973, he founded Fashion Fair Cosmetics, which after losing $5 million during its first five years of operation, grew to become America’s largest black-owned cosmetics company with international sales in North and Latin America, in Europe, and in Africa. Other Johnson business lines included travel services, a mail order operation, fashion shows, clothing, and book publishing.

Beyond commerce, Johnson left a legacy of philanthropy that was most often committed to education. He was especially dedicated to the United Negro College Fund, and it is estimated that his companies helped to raise more than $51 million in scholarships throughout the country. Several years before his death, he donated $4 million to Howard University’s School of Communications, which now bears his name. He also actively supported the Urban League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Conference of Christians and Jews.

Not withstanding the above, John Johnson was a controversial figure. Employees complained about his autocratic leadership style, with some even referring to Johnson Publishing as the “plantation.” In 1985, Fortune magazine labeled him as “one of the toughest bosses to work for.” Johnson’s publications were also criticized for offering too much “fluff” at the expense of critical reporting on the continuing inequities of American society. In response, Johnson often pointed to specific stories he had published related to the civil rights struggle, but he also reminded his critics that he was “a businessman, not a social worker.”

For most of his life Johnson preached that a strong work ethic and sheer perseverance could overcome racial prejudice. But the accomplished millionaire came to question this precept, writing in his autobiography, Succeeding Against the Odds: “the closer I get to the top the more I realize that I’m never going to be fully accepted on merit and money alone. And that a different generation of Blacks—and a different generation of Whites—will know the final victory.”

It is difficult to exaggerate John Johnson’s influence on American society. And while the extent of his commercial success is truly exceptional, he is but one of countless examples of the inspirational black business tradition in American history. That tradition deserves more attention not only during Black History Month and but also in the pages of our classroom history books.

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Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Thomas,

In 1932 Hoover left a GNP Growth Rate of -13.4 and an Unemployment Rate of 23.6% yet you call it "FDRs planned depression".

Why do you hate America?


Zero (2.) Mathematics (a.) The identity element for addition (b.) A cardinal number indicating the absence of any or all units under consideration (c.) An ordinal number indicating an initial point or origin. (d.) An argument at which the value of a function vanishes.

How absurd is your claim... an industrial nation the size of 1933 Germany (pop. 65.2M) had zero unemployment. Not one person whether they be indigent, handicapped, mentally incompetent or physically unfit... all were gainfully employed.

A society where all citizens worked including women, Jews, gays, gypsies and all other so called lesser beings within the Reich. A nation that in 1932 had 6M unemployed magically drops to zero in twelve months. A utopia too good to be true or pure propaganda? A regime trying to establish credibility, fend off internal enemies and foreign foes or OZ?

Why do you admire Nazism?


Then to believe that Henry Ford had no concerns over the Jewish race as the author of 'My Life and Work' 1922 challenged the International Jew is even more far fetched than your Nazi propagandized zero unemployment claim.

Why do you hate Jews?


Finally,to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy in support of dead millionaire's while failing to defend your own good name when called out as being racially insensitive is even more unsettling.

There is a real disconnect here and it is certainly not from this end of the wire.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Thomas,

If you continue to write this well they will be sure to save an editorial byline for you at Weekly World News... BAT BOY SPILLS MARBLES...

Fancy us with the details, as you recall them, of these grand celebrations for Carnegie, Ford and Edison? Be sure to include a champagne toast to John D. Rockefeller and JP Morgan as well.

There was a little shindig for Carnegie at Homestead, PA in July 1892 but, Frick and his Pinkerton army got a wee bit soused spoiling what was sure to be a killer good time for all.

This next question is a two parter...

Tell us exactly just how gay was the times, as you remember them to be, prior to October 29, 1929?


Specify, in detail, just how did FDR map out, orchestrate and implement the great depression?

Then to maintain momentum you write, "the ethos of the Soros party is that blacks must be kept in victim status and milked for votes in return for miserable welfare payments and pervasive drug addiction."

Provide statistics, demographics, testimonials, sources or any other data you have at hand to justify this overtly bizarre assertion?

Further, you gallantly don your white sheet and hood to spout, "It is terribly inconvenient when blacks such as Opra, Justice Thomas, John Johnson, or any others do well. They must be Oreos!Therefore, "tycoons" cannot be celebrated, and that's how we got here."

What exactly is an Oreo? And, who is 'we' cracker?

Finally, not to leave well enough alone, you douse the cross and strike this match, "Blacks will regain a respectable place in US society only when they renounce welfare, crack, crime, and promiscuity, and embrace hard work, loyalty, customer service, and thrift-the virtues of tycoons, and all other businesspeople as well."

I realize that civilization has yet to reach your neck of the woods down in Smithfield, NC but you need to elaborate on... I am at a loss for words... your sentiment, in specific detail, if you are capable?

The great actress Dorothy Dandridge star of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess started her brilliant career as an extra in the 1936 depression era Marx Brothers hit "A Day At The Races." Groucho stated that he was 'color blind' when asked why he cast black actors in his films.

This is a lesson from 70 odd years ago that you still haven't grasped.

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Thomas,

Just hung up on a very good friend from Arizona who was born in Germany before the war. When I asked about Schacht he snorted and mumbled something or other. When I explained your statement all he said was that "we ate" and "had more fruit". So I kept pressing and he admitted that "everyone worked during the war". Not satisfied I asked about before the war. He said that he remembered "men standing around on the streets of Hamburg" but, wasn't sure if everyone had a job. We then went on to talk about more important things... skiing and golf. I've got another call out to a friend in Milwaukee and will report his remembrances.

Meanwhile back at the ranch. I read your proof from Business Week. Twice. As usual, nowhere in the article did it state that Germany had 0% unemployment but, coming from you that was to be expected.

A Google search of Schacht+Germany+unemployment gave only one attribution to your claim and here it is;

"The figure of unemployment dropped from 7,000,000 to zero."

Who said this statement to back up your assertion. Low and behold it is none other than defendant Hjalmar Schahht himself, crying to Supreme Allied Justice Robert Jackson, as he pleaded for leniency and his miserable, worthless, two bit life. Nurenburg Trial Transcript 1946 (pg. 396). Link below.

A gutless worm of a man. Really not even deserving to be called a man. A butcher of Jews. A butcher of women. A butcher of children. A killer of American Troops. An enemy of mankind. A snake who I pray to the Lord God that his wretched soul flames in the fires of hell for eternity without a second of respite.

This is your hero. You are a pathetic loser.


Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Keuter,

It is fully acceptable to discuss the problems facing the black community and being white has nothing to do with participation in said discussion, if that is truly what it is... discussion.

However, what is totally unacceptable is a broad stereotyping, bastardization of facts, blame shifting, racist innuendo and a whitewash of history as clearly presented in Mr. Thomas' post.

Although my perspective may not be unique by being raised in Pittsburgh, PA with many black friends, classmates and neighbors; then having a career in heavy manufacturing with numerous years working in the deep south at mills predominately manned by blacks, who in turn were not only coworkers but, good friends, may give me cause for an uneven bias and to an extent, favoritism.

If a simple timeline begins in 1619 when a Dutch slave trade ship delivered (20) African indentured servants to Jamestown, VA to initiate 246 years of a totally brutal subjugation to 1865 [13th Amendment], followed by another 100 years of a brutal segregation to 1965 [Voters Rights Act] and finally the past 40 years behind the 8-ball then the effects of playing catch-up becomes much more transparent as to how any race of people, regardless or origin, may have failings in attempting to re-establish/assimilate into Mr. Thomas' pre-conceived world.

Unfortunately, the Thomas' are hair trigger quick to attribute drugs, crime, sloth, abandonment, promiscuity, democrats and other ethereal forces to a community he probably hasn't the slightest relationship with or even a modicum of understanding for. If this were not true then he could have easily posted any of a myriad of examples of love, kindness, success, family, friendship, scholarship and hope for the future within the community.

Hang in there Jason... we'll see if we can't make some headway and solve some problems over the next few posts to this thread... I'm not done kicking dust quite yet...

Patrick M. Ebbitt - 9/24/2006

Dear Mr. Thomas,

There was no sarcasm in my previous post. It was pure, unadulterated distaste for your vile, insensitive crudity. Also, save your enlightenment for someone who gives a damn.

Seeing as how FDR didn't enter the Oval Office until 1933, a full four years into a runaway, devastating Republican fueled depression there is no way your blame is justified. Republican's instituted Smoot-Hawley and the 1932 Revenue Act. These two gems coupled with Andrew Mellon's cockeyed stewardship at Treasury exasperated an already dire situation fully orchestrated by Republican's and their Wall Street scions.

You write. "Of western countries, only the US did the opposite of what was needed. Only the US experienced a "depression." Germany, France and England recovered quickly from their nasty recessions well before 1936."

Oh really... did Hitler came to power on the coattails of an economic boom or in a wheelbarrow of despair?

And, how convenient of you to forget that in June 1931 a serious banking collapse occurred in Central Europe that threatened to cause a worldwide financial meltdown. Hoover issued the so-called 'Hoover Moratorium' that called for a one-year halt in reparations payments by Germany to France and in the payment of Allied war debts to the United States. The Hoover Moratorium had the effect of temporarily stopping the banking collapse in Europe but, caused considerable hardship at home. Then in 1932, prior to being dragged out by the tuft of his neck, Hoover agreed to the terms of the Switzerland Conference that canceled all reparations payments by Germany.

The Republican's, under Hoover, delivered us the ABC's of economic ill prosperity... Emergency Relief and Construction Act, Federal Home Loan Bank Act, Agricultural Marketing Act, Emergency Relief Organization, National Credit Corporation and Reconstruction Finance Act. It was Hoover, not FDR, who actively encouraged businesses to maintain high wages during the Depression. Many businessmen, most notably Henry Ford, raised or maintained their workers' wages early in the Depression in the hope that more money into the pockets of consumers would end the economic downturn.

Only under the steady hand, stewardship and strong will of the unflappable FDR was the nation righted from years of Republican guided mismanagement. Much to the chagrin of revisionist, rightwing apologists such as you.

Further, let's look at some of my cherry picked composite statistics from 1933 and 1937...

Real GNP 1933= 126.6 1937= 183.5
CPI 1933= 55.3 1937= 61.4 (1947=100)
Index of Industrial Production 1933= 55.3 1937=61 (1947=100)
Money Supply ($B) 1933= 19.8 1937= 29.6
Unemployment (M) 1933= 12.8 1937= 7.7
Unemployment % 1933= 24.9 1937= 14.3

As one can see it was FDR who turned around the Republican mess of 1929. I know this is troubling to you but, a quick leap from your nearest window would provide welcome relief.

Moving on... Although each of the aforementioned men were truly great tycoons they were mere mortals all the same... no better, no worse than any other man...

Carnegie was feted everywhere because he paid for it out of his own pocket. He was thoroughly despised, gave away bundles of guilt money and ended up shuttered in Skibo Castle forgoing his beloved New York. Lonely. Broken. Disenchanted.

Ford was an anti-semite and psychotic lunatic. Edison was a braggart, liar and notorious self promoter.

And, honestly you need to drop the hard-on for Soros. Especially, with me as I despise this creep more than you do.

Further, Jesse Jackson hasn't been the voice of blacks for over (10) years and who have Republican's pimped to their 2% black constituency... Alan Keyes, JC Watts and Lynn Swann. No wonder blacks avoid the Repug's in droves. Thank goodness for Condi Rice or their polls would be in negative digits.

Is it any wonder any normal, non-WASP ducks the GOP at all costs... Christ, this group eats it own... Lincoln Log Cabin Wing anyone?

Finally, your continual carping about educational shortcomings and abandonment issues, spurred on by judicious Republican policy, against blacks are just a prevalent in white communities. The rights continual tag against blacks while failing to clean-up our own yard is both astounding and hypocritical.

If you really want something to howl about go check out the current crystal meth epidemic ravaging white middle America. Maybe you can write to Soros about this one as he is fighting to legalize recreational drugs to free up the scourge of methamphetamine even more.

Jason KEuter - 3/3/2006

Yes...I suspect some will take issue with you and argue that Dr. Win the War did in fact have a command economy. But there are important differences between the amount of freedom business had over production, distribution ,etc than is typical among other command economies. The bottom line remains, however, that public monies were used to provide markets for war industries that fueled the boom.

Frederick Thomas - 3/2/2006

.. before this invidious mouth-frothing gets worse, or mutates into wholesale foot-in-mouth disease.

I suggest that you study some actual ecomomic history, starting with the real, detailed methods by which the ecomomic star of the 20th century, Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht, was able to whip Germany's economy into near perfect shape in less than 4 years, (while America foundered,) often standing up to Hitler and Goering, and being fired and rehired by Hitler 3 times. Too bad someone with his backbone was not here to rein in FDR and Morgenthau.

Schacht was the only non-Nazi in Hitler's administrations. He openly befriended and protected Jews. His economic policies are the inverse of FDRs, and he saved the German economy by them.

Schacht's autobio, "Confessions of the Old Wizard" is best, offering comments on other countries' and politicians' failures. But if you want to go the "history light" bio route, John Weitz' is also fairly complete and fair. Review:


And don't forget that rabies shot.

Frederick Thomas - 3/2/2006

...are much appreciated in this sometimes overheated subject area.

If I had to put a finger on one thing about FDRs policies, which got to the root of the problem, it is that only the US had a "depression." Every western country was out of their 1932 "recessions" by 1936.

Forced to come up with a number two issue, I would say that, as my UCLA citation concluded, FDR prolonged the recession for 6-7 unnecessary years by making normal recovery measures, which any competent economist would heartily recommend today, illegal and the subject of jail terms. (Hoover's culpability for first trying these ridiculous measures is not to be forgotten.)

Forced again to come up with a third issue, I may point out that communist inspired command economies, such as FDR attempted to install here, have never worked, ever, and should not be expected to work here. Today, only N. Korea and Cuba follow FDRs methods, and their economies are tanked.

The FDR command economy approach was of course conveniently junked in 1940 as he plotted to put us into war. "Dr Win-the-war" took over, in FDRs nursery school characterization.

I see nothing good in this incompetent ecomomic leader, who got the US into a world war which only 10% of Americans supported. One must question his war-mongering which cost 440,000 American lives and many more of our enemies' as a solution to government indiced depression.

Thank you for your comments.

Jason KEuter - 3/1/2006

I think you're neglecting the role World War II played in creating the recovery, which entailed massive government spending to jump start the economy that wasn't jump starting itself. You are perhaps too eager to validate the market. The kind of failures you speak of regarding government involvement in the economy are there, but the successes were there too - -they just weren't sustainable, and attempting to sustain them is less desirable than a closer approximation to laissez-faire, which has steadily been gaining back its good reputation from the battering it received when the New Deal Order seemed just fine.

That order fell apart more from its internal contradictions (a point I think we agree upon) and the ugly realities engendered by the welfare state and most of all, because the rest of the world wasn't willing to accept the protectionist policies upon which it was built.

Frederick Thomas - 3/1/2006

Mr. Ebbitt, perhaps remedial READING is what you need. You say you do not care, then give a very long response. Sounds like a sinner seeking redemption, so here we go again.

Re: Hoover. Please obtain some of the enlightenment which you disdain and READ what I said about Hoover, who launched the devastating price control etc. programs which FDR evidently considered as his revealed religion, since he copied them, expanded them hugely in 1933, and destroyed what was left of the economy. Am I going too fast for you?

Re: Hitler. READ again, and think chronology. The crash came in 1929. In the 1932 election, Hitler gets a plurality of 33%. Hindenburg asks him to form a government. He does and fixes the problem by going from 13% unemployment to NONE, because of genius Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, who slashed taxes and regulations.

That was over the same period when the US ended with 13% unemployment, a total failure. Your figures are incorrect. Please cite the source, and provide comparitive figures for other developed countries for the same period. Most of the statistical headings you cite did not come into use until later. These are probably back projections from other statistics, probably by a leftie think tank. And don't hyperventilate about Smoot Hawley. It merely reinstituted the same policy of most of the previous half century.

"As one can see it was FDR who turned around the Republican mess of 1929."

All major countries were in severe recession in 1932. By 1936 all but the US were completely out, and the US has renamed its condition to "depression". How can you say the FIDDER was anything but a rolling disaster? Clearly your ecomomics are faith based.

I suppose that any source which disagrees with you is false, but I believe that UCLA has a reasonably competent econ faculty. Read and heed:

"In an article in the August issue of the Journal of Political Economy, Ohanian and Cole blame specific anti-competition and pro-labor measures that Roosevelt promoted and signed into law June 16, 1933.

“President Roosevelt believed that excessive competition was responsible for the Depression by reducing prices and wages, and by extension reducing employment and demand for goods and services,” said Cole, also a UCLA professor of economics. “So he came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces. The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by these misguided policies.”

"Using data collected in 1929 by the Conference Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Cole and Ohanian were able to establish average wages and prices across a range of industries just prior to the Depression. By adjusting for annual increases in productivity, they were able to use the 1929 benchmark to figure out what prices and wages would have been during every year of the Depression had Roosevelt’s policies not gone into effect. They then compared those figures with actual prices and wages as reflected in the Conference Board data.

"In the three years following the implementation of Roosevelt’s policies, wages in 11 key industries averaged 25 percent higher than they otherwise would have done, the economists calculate. But unemployment was also 25 percent higher than it should have been, given gains in productivity.

"Meanwhile, prices across 19 industries averaged 23 percent above where they should have been, given the state of the economy. With goods and services that much harder for consumers to afford, demand stalled and the gross national product floundered at 27 percent below where it otherwise might have been.

“High wages and high prices in an economic slump run contrary to everything we know about market forces in economic downturns,” Ohanian said. “As we’ve seen in the past several years, salaries and prices fall when unemployment is high. By artificially inflating both, the New Deal policies short-circuited the market’s self-correcting forces.”"


As far as your critique of the "barons," it sounds as if you made it all up. It is good for a laugh, anyway. How about this:

Carnegie was...was thoroughly despised...and ended up shuttered in Skibo Castle... Lonely. Broken. Disenchanted. HAW!

Ford was an anti-semite and psychotic lunatic. Edison was a braggart, liar and notorious self promoter. HAW.

Your venom-spitting only proves the wrongness of your cause. These men created huge wealth for this country, employed millions, advanced science, technology, finance and particularly education. Your attack on them is particularly mean spirited.

Frederick Thomas - 2/28/2006

Mr. Ebbitt:

I suspect that beneath the puerile sarcasm, you are actually seeking some enlightenment, so I will provide a little bit, big items first.

The Depression:

Hoover started the air-head policies which FDR copied and expanded, ie direct government manipulation of the economy, forcing wages, prices, etc. without having a clue how it worked.

He forced the auto companies to give a raise in the face of falling demand, which put the companies in the red, suppliers into bankruptcy, and bank failures everywhere.

The Federal Reserve was helpless, but that was not how it was sold to congress originally. Indeed, the FED tried to withdraw money from the economy during recession. Brilliant. Banks closed by hundreds.

FDR picked up the same tune, and played it much louder, in dozens of ill-considered disasters such as the price stabilization boards. A Washington laundry charged 35 cents per shirt instead of the 45 which the board demanded. The owner was jailed without benefit of court and spent 6 months in jail. His business collapsed and his workers became unemployed. That repeated itself many thousands of times as air-brained little Commies showed what fine economists they were.

Of western countries, only the US did the opposite of what was needed. Only the US experienced a "depression." Germany, France and England recovered quickly from their nasty recessions well before 1936. The figures are:

Country 1932 1936

USA 12 13

France 11 6

UK 12 6

Germany 13 0

Germany had a huge advantage. Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the greatest economic genius of the century was running its recovery program.

Those countries which were out of recession by 36 used the obvious tools: cutting taxes and regulation. The US vastly increased both taxes and regulation.

The barons:

Carnegie was feted everywhere. He took a pretty miserable backwater in Western PA and developed radically new techniques which permitted steel to be made very efficiently. This came at a time of enourmous growth.

Was he celebrated? Well, he got employment for hundreds of thousands under good terms and with actual pensions. They had none of that before. He was a hero both here and in Scotland. And after all, he was the greatest supporter of universal education of his time, and founded a great university. How about FDR?

Edison? Well they named a town (actually many towns) after him, often by acclamation, which gives you an indication. Everyone knew how brilliant he was and felt blest when electric light and Gramaphones came into their lives. How about FDR?

The rest you can pursue yourself. This was all before FDRs agitprops got out the word that all businessmen are evil, for the brain dead to groove on.

"The ethos of the Soros party"

Just look around. Can you find me a single (democratic) black political leader who promotes black independence and hard work, and who is not a welfare pimp? Why are they all Democrats? Name me one Republican black who behaves like Jesse Jackson.

When black kids fail and can't read when in the 1920s they succeeded, why is that? How about the targeted 1930s "reform" of previous "widows and orphans" funds into programs which required the husband to be absent for benefits to be paid? Mr. Ebbitt, those bills were raised in hell itself, and American blacks reentered slavery when they bought their terms.

Now, just why are you not outraged about that?

Jason KEuter - 2/28/2006

Is it not okay for someone to point out that there are serious problems in the black community? Is it verboten for anyone white to do this? What's a white person to do in the face of such problems? Ignore them and "celebrate"? Or ignore them and be accused of not paying attention to the serious problems of "urban" America? Or to acknowledge them but only as a precursor to a long litany of Manichean history whose relationship to those problems is hardly indisputable?

Jason KEuter - 2/28/2006

I don't know that you speak of celebration as much of an inconvenient set of facts for true believers in socialism (who have simply taken to redoubling their fervent anti-capitalism): namely that capitalism has generated unprecedented prosperity and amazing increases in standards of living.

Any history which starts with the objective of "celebrating", instead of understanding, however, is objectionable because it is simply not true - unless one believes in unambiguous good.

The black middle class is a huge political inconvienence for both parties, who have a pretty good track record of exploiting the existence of seemingly perptetual problems among poor blacks and thus do live off the persistence of those problems and arguably govern accordingly.

You might look for a George Will column in Newsweek earlier this year about redsitricting and how black politicians have often been complicit in creating Gerrymandered all black districts. The primary benficiary is, of course, the black politician. You might also take a look at E Franklin Frazier's Black Bourgeoisie - a pretty timeless book about the black middle classes ambivalent relationship with race and racism.

I sort of agree with you about successful black people, but I believe many in the entertainment industry not only live off of ugly racial stereotypes but also promote them in a sort of perverse Ragged Dick kind of way.

Frederick Thomas - 2/27/2006

Mr. Keuter:

You are correct, and that's the problem.

When the US celebrated Carnegie, Ford and Edison, it also ticked off 10% growth years, one after another, with full employment, and rapidly rising living standards. In the years before FDRs planned depression, an event felt nowhere else on earth, blacks ran almost every business in Harlem, overwhelmingly obeyed the laws, loved their families, and prospered. FDR used the depression he created to justify his continuance in office. He blamed the whole thing on "greedy big business," and then destroyed businesses by the tens of thousands, faster than the Supreme Court could rejct his horrible romp.

Today, the ethos of the Soros party is that blacks must be kept in victim status and milked for votes in return for miserable welfare payments and pervasive drug addiction.

It is terribly inconvenient when blacks such as Opra, Justice Thomas, John Johnson, or any others do well. They must be Oreos!Therefore, "tycoons" cannot be celebrated, and that's how we got here.

Blacks will regain a respectable place in US society only when they renounce welfare, crack, crime, and promiscuity, and embrace hard work, loyalty, customer service, and thrift-the virtues of tycoons, and all other businesspeople as well.

Jason KEuter - 2/27/2006

Because business tycoons ar never celebrated, and I don't know that historians should be celebrating much of anything. I understand your point and its gnerally well received, but it calls for an "alternate" celebration when no celebration should be taking place in the first place - at least not under the name of "history".

Black history should be studied and followed and understood. The search for "accomplishments" and "celebrations" wrongly suggests that black history is somehow without ambiguity and is not a field rich for intellectual inquiry.