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Spotlight on Black Entrepreneurs in History – WEB DuBois

By Norma Stanley | November 2022

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was a pre-eminent example of African American brilliance, creativity, activism and entrepreneurship. An American scholar, activist and historian who attended Fisk University, Harvard and the University of Berlin, Du Bois helped found the NAACP and his works regarded as the foundation for the field of sociology, as it is known today.

His 1940 autobiography Dusk of Dawn is regarded in part as one of the first scientific treatises in the field of American sociology. In addition, Dubois published two other life stories, all three containing essays on sociology, politics and history.

As editor of the NAACP's journal The Crisis, DuBois published many influential pieces Believing that capitalism was a primary cause of racism, he was generally sympathetic to socialist causes throughout his life. He was an ardent peace activist and advocated for nuclear disarmament. The United States Civil Rights Act, embodying many of the reforms for which Du Bois had campaigned his entire life, was enacted a year after his death

Dubois was 95 years old when he died in 1963, but his life’s work still has tremendous impact on American society, particularly African-Americans who want to pursue entrepreneurship. In fact, in 1899, Du Bois oversaw a report entitled, “The Negro in Business,” which found that despite socio-economic challenges facing the recently emancipated slaves, many were actively engaged in successful business ventures.

Some of the themes shared in his 1899 report, uncover recurring themes among successful black owned businesses today. These include a predominant emphasis in the Black community in supporting businesses owned by other Blacks. One of the first things DuBois states in the DuBois report, is that black businesses are more likely to be successful when they embed themselves in areas with large black populations. The DuBois report states "It is clear that it is density of Negro in the main that gives the Negro business-man his best chance".

This trend continues today. According to Blackdemographics.com, black businesses continue to be concentrated in urban areas with large black populations. 34.8% of all black businesses are located in Washington, D.C. followed by Mississippi and Georgia. New York and Atlanta are the cities with the greatest number of black businesses.

Other key components in DuBois’s report that are still relevant and evidenced today, are that Black business have and continue to be driven by physical business to consumer products; Black businesses have found success by tapping into the “advantage of being disadvantaged”, where hardships endured by black entrepreneurs have served as the inspiration for their business ideas and made them intimately familiar with the black consumer, and that you can start a successful venture, regardless of your situation.