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In covering African American’s participation in commerce and finance for 35 years, BLACK ENTERPRISE has exposed the good, bad, and ugly. In the 1970s, black entrepreneurs and corporate professionals expanded their horizons as a result of civil rights legislation, affirmative action, and the rise of black political power. In an ironic move, ultraconservative President Richard Milhous Nixon signed Executive Order 11458 in March of 1969, mandating the Commerce Department to coordinate federal government programs to create and bolster black businesses. These would be some of the same initiatives weakened by Republican administrations from the 1980s to the new millennium: the 8(a) minority set-aside program, MESBIC financing (Minority Enterprise Small Business Investment Companies), and the agency known today as the Minority Business Development Agency. The force that truly propelled black entrepreneurship forward in the 1970s and 1980s, however, was the activism of mayors such as Atlanta’s Maynard Jackson; New Orleans’ Ernest “Dutch” Morial; Detroit’s Coleman Young; and Fayette, Mississippi’s, Charles Evers, brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers and BE’s first cover subject. These achievements fell in lockstep with African Americans moving into the executive suite and the ascendancy of the black middle class.
For more than a generation, our editors and readers witnessed the triumphs and disappointments of black businesspeople as American industry evolved. In the span of 35 years, large and small corporations evolved from conducting business with the use of electric typewriters and dictating machines to the Internet and cell phones. But even though sweeping social changes and life-altering technological advances opened doors and created once-unfathomable opportunities, African Americans still have to clear major hurdles that include corporate glass ceilings, unyielding good ole boys’ networks, and government rulings that are inhospitable to affirmative action.
Despite the obstacles — and, in many cases, because of them — a large number of black entrepreneurs and executives emerged victorious. Just take a look at some of the milestones over the past 35 years: Four black-owned companies surpassed the billion-dollar revenue mark, more than 40 African Americans served as CEO or president in corporations that were among the top 1,000 publicly traded in the U.S., and black politicians ascended to some of the nation’s highest political posts.
Our selected timeline, based on when key events appeared on the pages of BE, illustrates moments that capture black wealth, power, and success.
BLACK ENTERPRISE debuts. The magazine becomes, and remains, the bible of black business.
Rev. Leon H. Sullivan becomes the first black person named to the board of directors of General Motors. His appointment makes him the first African American director of one of the nation’s top 500 publicly traded corporations. Today, there are 255 African American directors on corporate boards at the top 500 publicly traded companies.
Johnson Products Co. goes public. The nation’s largest hair care manufacturer becomes the first black-owned company to be publicly traded on the American Stock Exchange.
Daniels & Bell becomes the first black investment banking firm to purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Two years later,