Twelve years prior to the establishment of the business lobbying group U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Booker T. Washington founded the National Negro Business League in 1900. The purpose of the group was to advance and support the economic interests of the Black community and provide a model of self-sustained financial growth.
Washington’s vision for the League came as the specter of Jim Crow and racism still hung high over the heads of African-Americans. The popular leader believed that education and economic prosperity were the keys to gain equal footing with the white community. His view differed greatly from Washington’s rival, W.E.B. Du Bois, who adopted a more radical view of how equality should be obtained.
Despite this rift in Black leadership, the league thrived, opening several hundred chapters across the nation and continuing to grow after Washington’s death in 1915. One major factor in the League’s success was its deep connection to the white business elite which Washington kept close. In fact, the League was aided by white philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and Washington was also friends with Sears, Roebuck & Co. President Julius Rosenwald.
In the mid-sixties, the organization was renamed the National Business League under President Berkeley Burrell. It continued its work in the community, although much of its earlier prominence began to diminish as the 20th Century rolled on. However, the League expanded its reach and worked across the entire Africa Diaspora promoting its brand of financial literacy.
Dr. Malcolm Beach Sr. was the League’s last sitting president, and will make way for Ken Harris of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce. The Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce is merging with the National Business League with Harris set to assume the president’s role.
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