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Lending a Hand: How Small Black Businesses Supported the Civil Rights Movement

Author

Listed:
  • Louis A. Ferleger

    () (Boston University)

  • Matthew Lavallee

    (Boston University)

Abstract

A large literature has detailed the seminal roles played in the Civil Rights Movement by activists, new political organizations, churches, and philanthropies. But black-owned businesses also provided a behind-the-scenes foundation for the movement’s success. Many black-owned businesses operated across the South because they provided goods and services to black customers who could not attain them from white businesses because of segregation. These small business owners very often played roles in civic matters that their counterparts in larger firms did not. Their civic participation and support contributed far more to the potential for political progress than scholars have recognized. Some accounts of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, for example, underestimate the significance of the role played by Montgomery`s community of black-owned businesses, from taxis to pharmacies. Examples from the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi also illustrate the importance of local small businesses: black business owners were on the front lines, resisting strong pressures from the white community. This paper analyzes these episodes and places them in the context of black-owned businesses in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, albeit descriptively given the unevenness and unavailability of standardized statistics. It also traces the debates over “Black Capitalism†and how the decline of segregation led to dramatic reorganizations of black businesses.

Suggested Citation

  • Louis A. Ferleger & Matthew Lavallee, 2017. "Lending a Hand: How Small Black Businesses Supported the Civil Rights Movement," Working Papers Series 67, Institute for New Economic Thinking.
  • Handle: RePEc:thk:wpaper:67
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    File URL: https://www.ineteconomics.org/uploads/papers/WP_67-Ferleger-King.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Collins, William J. & Margo, Robert A., 2000. "Residential segregation and socioeconomic outcomes: When did ghettos go bad?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 69(2), pages 239-243, November.
    2. Donohue, John J, III & Heckman, James, 1991. "Continuous versus Episodic Change: The Impact of Civil Rights Policy on the Economic Status of Blacks," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 29(4), pages 1603-1643, December.
    3. Collins, William J. & Margo, Robert A., 2007. "The Economic Aftermath of the 1960s Riots in American Cities: Evidence from Property Values," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(4), pages 849-883, December.
    4. Wright, Gavin, 2013. "Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South," Economics Books, Harvard University Press, number 9780674049338, December.
    5. Derek Neal & Armin Rick, 2014. "The Prison Boom and the Lack of Black Progress after Smith and Welch," NBER Working Papers 20283, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Charles Tate, 1970. "Brimmer and Black Capitalism: An analysis," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 84-90, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    American Political Economy; Black Capitalism; Civil Rights Movement; Small Businesses; African American Businesses; Civic Participation; Martin Luther King; Jr.; Andrew Brimmer;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • A14 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Sociology of Economics
    • B15 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary; Modern Monetary Theory;
    • D29 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Other
    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • G18 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Government Policy and Regulation
    • G21 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Banks; Other Depository Institutions; Micro Finance Institutions; Mortgages
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
    • J48 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Particular Labor Markets; Public Policy
    • L11 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Production, Pricing, and Market Structure; Size Distribution of Firms
    • L21 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Business Objectives of the Firm
    • N12 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N82 - Economic History - - Micro-Business History - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • N92 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: 1913-
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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