It often seems the only time Black Texans think about Black-owned businesses is when it’s time to complain about shoddy customer service, or the difficulty in finding them conveniently, or their failure to carry preferred brands. Rarely do we equate these perceived shortfalls to the rate at which we patronize these businesses. It’s actually a pretty simple formula: support Black-owned businesses and (magically) customer service will improve; they will be able to expand new locations and carry the brands you can’t live without.
This current failure to consider Black-owned businesses has not always been the way Black Texans viewed the critical need to support our businesses. Did you know that the FIRST Black chamber of commerce was started in Dallas, Texas in 1926? Keep in mind this was only five years after Tulsa’s Black Wall Street was firebombed into oblivion for simply being successful in business. Nine years later, in 1935, Houston’s Black business community gave birth to the nation’s second Black chamber, the Houston Citizen’s Chamber of Commerce (now the Greater Houston Black Chamber).
Here’s the good part: Just a year later, in 1936, the leaders of the Dallas Black Chamber and the Houston Citizen’s Chamber — along with business men and women from across the state — met in Dallas during the Texas Centennial celebration and formed the Texas State Negro Chamber of Commerce, the predecessor organization of the current Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce (TAAACC). Their commitment to the economic future of Black Texans spawned a network of chambers across the state, in big cities and small towns alike. From Texarkana to Corpus Christi to the Panhandle to Sherman-Denison (tiny Ennis still boasts their Ennis Negro Chamber, dating from 1947!) these businessmen and women went about the business of business.
Their concerns, of course, were not only with profit making. These visionaries realized that to the extent that Black Texans could stabilize, develop and grow Black-owned businesses, we could employ community residents, maximize our political muscle and significantly improve public education. Sound familiar?
Nearly 80 years later these simple goals continue to frustrate those of us in the business of Black business. Twenty-three chambers/business organizations currently comprise TAAACC’s membership while four new chambers are in varying stages of development. All this activity indicates that – despite the difficulties associated with being Black in business in Texas – there is still strong support for growing Black business with a goal of strengthening employment, political power and educational outcomes.
In a renewed effort to reacquaint Black Texans with their historic connection to business development and reignite the passion that gave birth to America’s first Black chamber and first statewide business organization, the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce and the Texas Publishers Association have committed to doing our part to keep you abreast of issues impacting Black-owned business in our state. The publishers of Texas’ 26 Black-owned newspapers, businessmen and women in an industry that has been hit especially hard by social media and the “Digital Age,” are still Black Texas’ most reliably trustworthy source of information affecting our lives. Clear, distortion-free communication is absolutely critical to the growth, development and expansion of Texas’ Black-owned businesses and we are elated about the prospects our working together will mean for Black businesses in our state.
Well before the 2020 census, Texas will have the 2nd largest Black population among the 50 states. Pitifully, even in this state’s dynamic economy, Black Texans lag behind in business receipts, political power, employment and educational attainment — even after nearly 80 years of effort to improve these outcomes.
I am optimistic that Black Texans will make the connection between where and how they spend their hard-earned money and the difficulties we continue to experience in other areas. I know we can, because brave men and women came together in 1936 when no hotel would sell them a room, no restaurant would seat them and they couldn’t try on a suit unless they bought it first… their answer: have your own hotel, restaurant and clothing store. Seems like the perfect time to go “back to the future…”
Charles O’Neal is President of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org