Boss: The Black Experience in Business FULL DOCUMENTARY | PBS America
-♪ One, two, get down ♪ [ James Brown's "The Boss" plays ] ♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Look at me ♪ -African-American business is an essential part of this ideal of black liberation. -Resilience, practicality, strategic thinking -- these are the qualities that business leaders have, but sometimes only emerge under the most stressful and sometimes unfair circumstances. -In the tradition of making a way out of no way, black entrepreneurs were forced to sell to their own community, but those businesses allowed them to become economically independent. -♪ Havin' fun, got money to burn ♪ -Wherever we are, we didn't get there by ourselves, and because we did not get there by ourselves, we have an obligation to help those who need us. We have an obligation to give back. -♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ ♪ Told you so ♪ -If you look at African-American business-community traditions, there's always a sense that you do good by doing well, and you do well by doing good.
-Today's subject is the Negro in business and industry. ♪♪ -♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ ♪♪ -When I was growing up, business was totally nontransparent to me. We were really, really poor. Mother was a daycare worker, and she always, always, always struggled with money. I remember always scrambling for food, always scrambling for safety, always scrambling for peace of mind, and we got it a lot as children, but she didn't. She never did.
♪♪ This idea of self-determination was her mantra. She would say to me all the time, "Be more than the circumstances would've dictated that we would naturally be." Being a teacher was a realistic thing, being a nurse was a realistic thing, but this whole idea that you go work for a company was not something that was really visible or understandable to me until I got to college. ♪♪ I came into Xerox as a summer intern, as a student.
♪♪ I decided at that point that I would probably, if I could, stay at Xerox and work after college. -Our new Xerox 4000, the copier that can do things other copiers just can't. Now Eileen can turn out 45 copies...
-In just about every visible way, I was a minority. In Xerox, there were very few women engineers, very few black engineers, and no black women engineers. Corporate America is built for white men.
It's an inherent feeling that excellence looks like this, it acts like this, it came from this place. It is a huge amount of pressure for people of color in a structured organization like a business where literally you are so different, you're so unique, you're so unlike everyone else that you have to always be a little bit on guard. I had to work with manufacturing people, with a whole bunch of union guys. I mean, literally people would refer to me as "that colored girl." ♪♪ But one day the CEO asked me to be his assistant. I had access to the company, like the CEO saw it, and I traveled with him during some of the most difficult times of the company, and I realized at one point, "Yeah, I could actually run this place.
-We're gonna turn to history being made in corporate America. For the first time, an African-American woman is going to head a Fortune 500 company. Ursula Burns, who once worked at Xerox as the executive assistant to the company's CEO will now be the CEO.
♪♪ -Ursula Burns is a role model, and we're going to get black female CEOs because Ursula Burns paved the way. -It was amazing. It took a lot for me to kind of get used to, because it was a huge deal. I wasn't anointed. I didn't have a light shined on me.
I didn't go to Harvard. I just literally started and worked and worked and worked and worked and worked. [ Camera shutter clicking ] But I had it a lot easier than the early pioneers. They were not only dealing with starting businesses. They were dealing with saving their lives. ♪♪ -During slavery, black people understood very well that money can buy freedom.
And how do you get money? People who got money were those involved in some independent economic business enterprise. ♪♪ -There's always been blacks who have been engaged in business, so even within the plantation economy, there was some, you know, trade or selling of handicrafts. ♪♪ -Usually, the money generated by this trade went to the slave owner, but sometimes it went to the enslaved worker. -With some of the profits that they were able to keep with the magnanimity of their owners, they were able to buy their freedom and the freedom of others.
So, literally, black entrepreneurship has meant freedom for black people. -When hundreds of years of enslavement came to an end, it seemed that African- Americans' dreams of freedom, equality, and independence were becoming a reality. ♪♪ -After the Civil War, they knew that they were and had been essential to the growth of the nation and the South. ♪♪ But in freedom, it was an opportunity for them to actually enjoy the fruits of their own labor. ♪♪ -It really was this moment of hope.
We have the passage of major civil rights legislation like the 14th Amendment, which gives African-Americans citizenship. We also have the passage in 1870 of the 15th Amendment, which gave African-American men the right to vote. And so there's a moment when African-Americans are really trying to seize the day.
♪♪ -"Must we sit and pray and hope for better times when the white man will see our need and give us better wages? Certainly not. Let us put our shoulders to the wheel, establish and carry on every specie of industrial enterprise for ourselves, employing and paying fair wages to our people." Richmond Virginia Star, 1882. -So you had openings here for African-American entrepreneurs, and we often don't realize that some of the first African-American entrepreneurs and businesspeople were farmers. -♪ Harvest time's comin' and will catch me unprepared ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Harvest time's comin' ♪ ♪ and will catch me unprepared ♪ -In that agrarian economy, you're just labor. Land is capital.
And so to gain money and wealth and to have freedom, you have to have land. -♪ Haven't made a dollar, bad luck is all I've had ♪ -At the end of the war, President Abraham Lincoln had promised the freedmen 40 acres of land per family... ♪♪ ...but those promises died with Lincoln's assassination. ♪♪ -Instead of 40 acres and a mule, they got the Freedman's Bank. So instead of land they were given a bank. ♪♪ -Union soldiers were getting bonuses. So the idea was to create a way to encourage the men to save the money so they wouldn't go squander it or be defrauded out of the money.
-It was sold to the freedmen as, "Better than giving you the land. You will earn the money through wages and you will save it and you'll buy your own land and you'll feel better about that." Never mind that hundreds of years of working the land didn't count for earning the land. -The Freedman's Bank was privately held, owned, and managed by wealthy white men, but the bank's aggressive marketing conveyed a different impression to its black depositors. -The passbooks, the notes all featured, you know, the heroes.
It was Abraham Lincoln. It was General Grant Howard. It was very targeted.
So people were saying, "These are the men who freed us, and they're saying come to this bank." -In freedom, some skilled African-Americans saved their hard-earned capital at the Freedman's Bank and went into business for themselves. -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ ♪ Great God, I'm on my way ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ To freedom land ♪ -♪ I'm on my way ♪ -Of course, you had African-Americans who dominated, actually, in certain industries such as tailoring, dressmaking, barbering. -Scholar W.E.B. Du Bois would later describe the roots
of this early generation of black entrepreneurs. -It is easy to see how the barber, the caterer, and the restaurant keeper were the direct economic progeny of the house servant just as the market gardener, the sawmill proprietor, and the florist were descendant from the field hand. ♪♪ -for some black businesspeople, personal services were the clearest path to success, and sometimes wealth. -They recognized that their ability to have a particular kind of skill set, which was something that the white population needed, allowed them a certain kind of mobility and freedom. -Many of them were able to cash in on expectations that they were replicating their servant roles where whites were in power and African-Americans were serving them. For example, a number of black barbers continued to keep their exclusively white clientele after the war.
♪♪ -It took very small capital to open up a barbershop. You have maybe one-, two-, three-chair shop and then you have your tools and let's go. But many of the more successful, "first class" barbershops often had several shops in the same city. -If you were to walk in a first-class barbershop, you would've walked into something pretty grand -- tall ceilings, there'd be chandeliers, very tall mirrors. You would be met by differential apprentices dressed in white jackets, who would offer to take your hat and remove your coat and polish your shoes while you waited for your favorite barber to attend to you. If you looked behind the barber's stand, what you could see was your monogrammed shaving mug.
♪♪ -All these barbers spent that time in the barbershop, nurturing these relationships with white men, and used that money from the barbershop to help fund and to help fuel a black economic movement within their own communities. ♪♪ -John Merrick, a barber who had been enslaved as a child, convinced white investors to back his expanding business empire in Durham, North Carolina. -Ultimately, Merrick owns eight different barbershops, four of which served whites, and, significantly, four of which served African-Americans in the new black neighborhood of Hayti, which was emerging in Durham.
♪♪ -From barbershops to grocery stores, black businesses relied on the Freedman's Bank. But a decade after it was founded, Bank President Henry Cooke was running the Freedman's Bank into the ground. ♪♪ -Here was Cooke saying, "Look at all this money. They're putting their money in my bank and whenever I need it, I'm gonna reach in and get it." -Henry Cooke starts looting the bank. He just starts taking this money and lending it or giving it to some friends and acquaintances, just putting the capital into railroad bonds, which was the subprime market of the day.
♪♪ -With the Freedman's Bank on the verge of collapse, the federal government turned to the best-known African-American leader in the country to salvage it. -Congress brought in Frederick Douglass to serve as the new president of the Freedman's Bank. Initially he invested $10,000 of his own money as a way to shore up the bank, as well as to encourage other African-Americans to continue to deposit their money into the bank. But the bank was beyond saving, so Douglas had to go to Congress and say that the bank was bankrupt and it needed to close. -The fact is I was married to a corpse. I found that I had been placed there with the hope that by some drugs, or some mighty magic, I would bring it back.
But the life, which was the money, was gone. ♪♪ ♪♪ -The hard-earned savings of the freedmen were lost just in the market, just poof. And nobody gets prosecuted. ♪♪ This was white-collar crime, actual just crime, it was theft, and nobody goes to prison for it. -Not even 10 additional years of slavery could've done so much to throttle the thrift of the freedmen as the mismanagement and bankruptcy of the series of savings banks chartered by the nation for their special aid. -From 1865 to 1874, about 70,000 people deposited the equivalent of $1.3 billion
in modern-day numbers, so African-Americans enthusiastically embraced the Freedman's Bank. It was a deep loss for African-Americans and a loss of a vast amount of black wealth. -Soon after the collapse of the bank, the federal government withdrew from the South -- returning control of the region to former slave owners. The dream of full citizenship for African-Americans came to a screeching halt. ♪♪ -We see the end of efforts to educate formerly enslaved people.
We see the end of the protection of the right to vote, and what is allowed to happen is a series of legislative and extralegal attempts to suppress African-American freedom. ♪♪ ♪♪ -Any land that was able to be secured is also violently retaken. And so what you see is a reassertion of that racial hierarchy in the South that had the white landowners at the top and black labor at the bottom. ♪♪ -After reconstruction, discrimination against African-Americans would be enshrined in state law for decades, enforced with violence by white terror groups. Leaders like W.E.B. Du Bois
argued that black-owned businesses could play a key role in progress. Du Bois advocated the formation of a business league. Booker T. Washington, the founder of Tuskegee Institute and the most prominent African-American in the country, agreed. -Booker T. Washington thinks it's a wonderful idea
and it also complements his own thinking about trying to organize African-Americans for economic opportunity and promotion of business. -Booker T. Washington starts the National Negro Business League, which becomes this incredible network of entrepreneurs across the country who meet for conventions, support one another, and show each other that they can make it in this capitalist society. ♪♪ -By 1900, there were about 20,000 black-owned businesses in the United States. They were anchors of black communities in the North and the South, including Memphis, Tennessee. -Blacks were truly on their way to becoming first-class citizens and living a good life in Memphis.
Thomas Moss is emblematic of that. He owned a store called the People's Grocery. It was a co-op, co-owned by at least 10 African-American citizens in Memphis, and this was part of the entrepreneurial spirit that was going on in the city. -The People's Grocery was considered a threat to the white community because there was already a grocery store in the area that was owned by a white person.
-That owner was William Barrett. In March of 1892, having grown fearful and jealous of the people's grocery's success, Barrett instigated a mob attack on his competition. -Men came in the middle of the night. There was gunfire. And as a result, there's lots of arrests, including men at the People's Grocery.
-Tommy Moss was dragged out of the jail and taken about a mile north. He was tortured and shot. ♪♪ -The killers' true motivation was exposed in a stinging column by local journalist and publisher Ida B. Wells, who was a close friend of Thomas Moss.
♪♪ -This is what opened my eyes to what lynching really was, an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property, and thus keep the race terrorized. ♪♪ -A rash of lynchings was sweeping the country -- 161 in 1892 alone. ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ After the murder of Thomas Moss, Ida B. Wells dedicated herself to exposing the truth. -The rationale that was always written up in the press, in the white press was that blacks were now suddenly and out of seemingly nowhere beginning to rape white women, because this was the only rationale that people could accept. -Wells launched a national investigation, and found that lynching was typically motivated by white resentment of black economic competition. ♪♪ When she published her findings, Wells' life came under threat.
-A mob comes and destroys her newspaper office entirely. People are waiting for her to come back to lynch her and so she decides not to come back to Memphis -- in fact, won't be back for decades. -In 1893, a year after she fled Memphis, Ida B. Wells delivered a blistering speech at the Chicago World's Fair.
Before a packed house, she condemned racism in the mainstream press. -The men who encourage or lead the mobs which do the lynchings belong to the race which own the telegraph wires, newspapers, and all other communication with the outside world, they write the reports which justify lynching, and those reports are accepted by the world without question or investigation. ♪♪ -Listening in the audience was aspiring publisher Robert Abbott. In a few short years, Abbott would become one of the most powerful African-Americans in the United States.
♪♪ -Robert Abbott started The Chicago Defender in 1905, supposedly with a capital of 25 cents and supposedly on his landlady's dining-room table. He has a vision to build this newspaper into a powerful and successful local and national business. ♪♪ -The Defender would soon become the nation's most influential black newspaper, with 2/3 of its readership outside Chicago.
♪♪ And Robert Abbott would turn his attention to influencing the actions of his readers. -By 1917, he was very actively encouraging African-Americans to move to Chicago and even set a date in May of 1917 for what he was calling the Great Northern Drive. ♪♪ You get a sense from The Defender that living in Chicago was exciting, and when you're sitting there in a small town in Mississippi or in Alabama, there's something attractive about that.
♪♪ -Critical to the Great Migration and the decision-making process for African-Americans in the North were black newspapers like The Chicago Defender that was asking a question -- "How free can you imagine your life?" ♪♪ -The black migration was happening. Robert Abbott didn't start it, but helped to support it and to foster it, to give people material information about how to leave and where to go and what would be available in Chicago if they came to Chicago, but also to say, "Look, other folks are doing it. You can do it, too. If you've been contemplating leaving, maybe now is the time to leave."
He saw black people leaving the South en masse as not only a social and personal act, but it's an economic act. ♪♪ ♪♪ -To Southern migrants, the Chicago they read about in The Defender was a place where their hard work would be rewarded, and their dreams of economic independence just might come true. -He didn't paint an overly romantic notion of life in the north, but it was a pretty stark contrast, particularly around economic opportunity for black families that are sharecropping or that are struggling to sustain businesses in the South.
♪♪ -By the winter of 1916, The Defender estimated more than 250,000 black people had left the South, destined for new lives and opportunities in northern cities. [ Horn honks ] [ Siren wails ] -More than 100 years later, black-owned media companies are building on the legacy of early black newspapers. -93.9 WKYS. Dominique Da Diva here.
-Black radio is nothing but an extension of the black print press, the Ida B. Wells, those who felt they had to give voice to their community. They didn't go into business to make money, but guess what -- She had to have some money to rebuild twice, okay? There's an African proverb that I love to quote, which is, "Until the lion learns to read and write, the story of the hunt will always be from the hunters' perspective, and the lion will always lose." Well, I like to consider my company the lion who learned how to read and write. ♪♪ 85 percent of all black America is touched by our company in one form or fashion.
They either listen to us on radio, watch us on TV, or they interact with us on the Internet. -Yeah, she's a sweetie. -Was it because of wanting to be a mother that you started to address health issues facing women? -No, we have been the spokesperson for how we can all live healthier lives in our city.
-Information is power. When an African-American community receives the information that they need and want, they'll come to the right conclusion. They will, in fact, be able to elevate the lifestyle and living standards of the entire community.
♪♪ Since I was 8 years old, I knew that I wanted to be on the radio. I knew I wanted to use my voice to make a difference. -Hughes got her chance in 1980, when a radio station in Washington, D.C., went on the market. She had always had the will.
Now all she needed was a loan. -I had to have $2 million. I went to all the banks. All of them said no. 32 times I heard "no." -Finally, she got a "yes," and Cathy Hughes bought her first station, WOL-AM, but her troubles were far from over. -My lowest point was after I got the loans and went into business because the economy tanked in America.
♪♪ I lost my home. So I ended up in a sleeping bag on the floor of my radio station. In hindsight, it was the best thing that ever could have happened because radio is 24/7, and I was there 24/7 with my company. Never once did I feel put out or put upon because I was in a sleeping bag on the floor of the conference room.
I thought I was camping out. I thought I was protecting my company. You do not have to lose who you are to be successful. You don't have to lose your integrity, your goodness, your compassion, your caring and sharing of other individuals to make a dollar. It is critical. It is essential for you to do good and do well at the same time and you must first do good before you worry about doing well.
-This lesson was drilled into Hughes by her parents and grandparents, who'd been part of the Great Migration -- not to the North, but to the West. ♪♪ -We often think of pioneers as white people with cowboy hats, women with Mother Hubbard bonnets, with a Conestoga wagon going across the plains, but the reality is that in Oklahoma, at least 1/10 or so of the pioneers were African-American. -There are these entrepreneurs that set sail, and they go in the dead of night. They have to escape the South. -These are people who risk it all to get there and they had great big dreams. I'm gonna create a town.
I'm going to run for sheriff. I'm going to be on the city council. We're gonna have paved streets and our own homes and our own buildings, and these are people who had been denied much access to the American economic system, but now they're starting to take part in it. [ Singing spirituals ] ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ -Between the 1870s and the beginning of World War I, black pioneers settled more than 100 all black towns in the west, each with the goal of economic independence. Among the most well-known was a black district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known by its residents as Greenwood. -If we were to go back in time to 1920 and walk up and down Greenwood Avenue, one thing that would probably strike us is the absolute variety of businesses.
The numbers are astonishing. 30 restaurants. 45 groceries and meat markets. There were dry-good stores, milliners, a photography studio, dental offices. Greenwood is no longer called Greenwood. It's now known as Black Wall Street.
-This whole idea of self-containment really existed there. The dollar would stay in that community sometimes over three, five years before it ever went outside of the community. [ Horns honk ] -In 1919, black soldiers returned from World War I with high expectations for racial progress at home. ♪♪ But in one city after another, white mobs erupted in violence, targeting black veterans, citizens, and businesses. Hundreds died. On Tulsa's Black Wall Street, African-Americans, including armed veterans, watched nervously and prepared for what might come.
-Countering this white militancy is very much an African-American spirit of, "We're gonna defend ourselves. If the mob comes, we're not gonna run, we've got our guns, and we're going to protect ourselves," and that was especially important and valuable and potent in Greenwood. -On May 30, 1921, the mob came to Greenwood. -This white woman is in an elevator, and this black teenager allegedly whistles at her or talks to her. He is taken to jail. A mob gathers of whites and blacks, and blacks in Tulsa are armed.
They take their Second Amendment rights seriously and they come with guns, and this is a threat. Someone fires into the crowd, and the riot is born. [ Indistinct shouting ] -Shortly before dawn, there are preparations for an invasion of Greenwood. ♪♪ The police start handing out rifles and shotguns to members of the mob who they then deputize as special deputies. ♪♪ ♪♪ -This was not about the whistling boy in the elevator. This was about blacks becoming too economically powerful and showing that wealth in a way that anyone would by creating buildings and constructing churches and having property.
♪♪ -There was a whistle that blew and then the mass invasion and the destruction of Greenwood began. It goes block by block. Any African-American men who resist are shot. Others who are still there are all rounded up by mob members, by police officers, by these special deputies. Whites will then break into businesses, loot what they can, and then set them on fire.
And by that afternoon on June 1, more than 1,000 homes and businesses belonging to African-Americans had been looted and burned to the ground. Greenwood is no more. -When the smoke cleared in the early morning of June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street lay in ruins. ♪♪ -This is by far the largest single incident of racial violence in all of American history.
♪♪ What can't be denied was the loss and the loss that these business owners suffered. This was capital that they would never, ever get back, nor would their descendants, as well. ♪♪ -Among those who lost everything was J.B. Stradford, one of the most successful black businesspeople in Tulsa. After he was wrongfully accused of inciting the riot, Stradford fled to Chicago.
-J.B. Stradford was my great-grandfather. His hotel was burned to the ground during the famous Tulsa race riots. My mom used to always talk about what a great entrepreneur he had been, and all of us in our family feel very, very strongly that our wealth was taken away during those Tulsa race riots. -J.B. Stradford's family never returned to Oklahoma. In Chicago, his children and grandchildren would grow up with a strong spirit of economic independence. ♪♪ -My father felt it was really, really important for his son to have financial security, and so he had certain guidelines that he had set up.
I was gonna have a checking account, I was gonna have a savings account at a very early age, and he made sure that I went to an African-American Bank and African-American savings and loan. [ Phone rings ] -John Rogers would go on to build Ariel Investments, headquartered in Chicago. -The other thing is we want...
Whatever we do, we want to be a model so that other financial-services companies get similar ideas to partner with urban public schools in a similar fashion. So if we get some visibility around our 25th anniversary, maybe it'll inspire others to try to replicate what we've been able to do. -I sort of put this idea together that if we were gonna be prudent investors, we'd also be patient investors.
There's that old Aesop's fable where the tortoise beats the hare, and at the end they always say -- the tag line was, "Slow and steady wins the race." And it's like, "Gosh," I thought, "This is kind of exactly what we're all about." As I got going in my career, I kept finding that major corporations and also major nonprofits, they say they believe in diversity, they say they're committed to it, and what I found was that a lot of it was sort of empty rhetoric, and that really troubled me.
So I found that I thought that was really important for me to, you know, challenge these institutions that say they care about diversity but they're not really living those values day to day. ♪♪ ♪♪ The Ariel Community Academy was started over 20 years ago. We built an extraordinary school. After we'd been in business for a couple years, I sort of borrowed the idea from my father and I thought for the kids to learn about investing, they needed to be investing real dollars.
So that's the heart of the program is to give the kids real money that they can invest in real stocks and when they graduate, see the benefit of their own decision-making and be able to take some of that cash home with them and help get them ready for college. We're really excited that we've had a number of a former Ariel Community Academy graduates work here as summer interns, and now we have two full-time graduates who work here at the firm. Thank you. -No problem. -John Rogers is the founder and owner of the largest black-owned asset management company in the country -- and by the way, one of the best-performing of any race. -And I do think we had a really good speaker this year. I think if we got started earlier, we could get someone with a little more name recognition.
-So that gives him leverage as an influencer of major corporations and the decision-making they're making, even though he's not an executive of a major corporation. He's exercising a level of influence that -- it almost can't be measured. -Maybe we would do something very innovative. -I was so fortunate here in Chicago to have great business success stories that I could try to follow in their footsteps. ♪♪ -Black-business success stories grew with the creation of a new urban culture. In the early 20th century, one of those stories was about black hair-care products.
-Women themselves wanted to transform. They wanted to take on the ways of the cities. -It really was about more than just looking good. As women are leaving the rural South and moving into urban areas, they're trying to adopt a more modern identity, a more professional identity, and for them, part of that had to do with learning new ways of grooming their hair.
-Annie Malone, a self-taught chemist, formulated a product that would help black women straighten their hair without damaging it. After creating her Wonderful Hair Grower, Annie Malone took it to her market. ♪♪ -And so she begins to develop this company. She begins commissioning sales agents to sell a hair preparation that she created.
And so it was a way for her not just to make money and to build what becomes the Poro company. She would develop a system of Poro beauty colleges where women could come and train and then eventually open up avenues for women to become entrepreneurs by owning their own businesses. She's employing black women, trying to get them on her sales force, and one of the women who does join her sales force is none other than Madam C.J. Walker. -Born to sharecroppers, the woman who would become known as Madam Walker had an even bigger vision for the black-hair-care industry. With $2 and a tireless work ethic, she struck out on her own.
-Walker begins to believe that she doesn't have to have a boss, and so she begins to make her own products. She needs to be where there are a lot of black people, where there are a lot of heads for her to use her products, and so she's now on the road selling her products. And she would demonstrate on someone in the town, she would train the women, she would find the woman who had the most spark, and make that woman her agent, and then she would travel to the next town and she would repeat that. ♪♪ -Madam C.J. Walker would build a business empire and become the first self-made woman millionaire in the world.
-What she's able to build is far greater than a product line. She's giving African-American women the opportunity to have independence in the kind of work that they do. They're protected in many ways from the indignities of domestic work.
It allows African-American women to set their own schedules, work on their own time, and serve within their own communities. -There was a testimonial letter from a woman who said, "You have made it possible for a colored woman to make more money in a day selling your hair products than she could in a month working in somebody's kitchen." -Walker and Malone's success in the hair care and beauty industry inspired legions of black women across the country to try their hands in business.
-Madam C.J. Walker, in my opinion, by any measure, is one of the greatest entrepreneurs to ever walk the face of this planet, period. -In 2016, after decades of being dormant, the Madam C.J. Walker line was relaunched by businessman Richelieu Dennis. -It wasn't just about resurrecting a brand. It was about making sure that her legacy is showcased in the light that it deserves to be showcased, that her brand deserves to live on well into the future.
-Rich Dennis' company, Sundial, is a family of hair and beauty brands principally serving the African Diaspora. -We are SheaMoisture, and now, we can be found in the beauty aisle where we all belong. -Under Sundial, we have Nubian Heritage, we have SheaMoisture, we have a Nyakio, which is a skin-care brand founded by a female entrepreneur of Kenyan descent. -These are -- so many people over nearly five decades, you know, have been a part of this journey. -That's cool. That's really cool. I was born and raised in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa at a time where there was significant civil unrest in and strife.
I came here to go to college, and by the time I graduated in 1991, we had a full-blown civil war in Liberia and in Sierra Leone. In that fighting, our home was destroyed, and my family lost everything. My mother had come to my college graduation on the last flight that left Monrovia. So, for us, it was a matter of survival. ♪♪ And so we set up a table on 125th and 5th Avenue up in Harlem and started selling soap and -- and selling oils and incense and -- and shea butter.
♪♪ Buying our ingredients from women like my grandmother became important to us. Far too often you see companies build off of our culture, exploit from our culture, but never invest back in the very people that give them the creative ideas. We felt that we could build a business that would change that. How are you doing? -Great.
-Everybody's excited. -This is amazing. -Yeah. So we've come from selling soap on a sidewalk on a table in Harlem to now being sold globally.
The energy. The -- -And the best is to come. -See, I like that. I like that. We're just getting it started. We're just getting it started. -Rich Dennis is young.
He took a small black company that sold primarily to black people -- and SheaMoisture started on the streets -- built it up into a real company, sold it to a white company, but turned around and used that wealth to acquire Essence. ♪♪ ♪♪ -The decision around Essence was one that was very, very easy and very clear. If we don't control our narrative, and if we don't own our culture, then others will own it.
♪♪ If you sort of follow what we've been doing over the past 27 years, it's always been about investing back in black women. They're the ones who built our brands, they're the ones who drive our market, and our vision was quite simply to serve women, black women, in ways that other brands weren't. ♪♪ -For over 100 years, black-hair-care entrepreneurs have served consumers that other companies ignored. -♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ -But hair care is not the only industry where black businesses recognized a market that was overlooked and underserved. Another case in point -- insurance.
-Black insurance companies take off in the late 19th century because white insurance companies began to refuse to cover African-Americans. -Black consumers could be denied coverage for some very strange reasons. -Frederick L. Hoffman, who worked for Prudential, had done some previous studies related to African-Americans, and in 1896, he published a study called "Race Traits of the American Negro." -Hoffman's research led him to predict that the black race would eventually become extinct.
♪♪ -He purports that these studies are completely scientific, that they are objective, but they are racist in their assumptions about the fitness of African-Americans. -After this book came out, Prudential ceased insuring black people altogether, and some other white companies ceased to insure African-Americans. -This is a big opening for black insurance companies to say, "Okay, well we'll do it." -Black-owned insurance companies anchored thriving business districts in black communities nationwide. One of the biggest was in Durham, North Carolina. -Durham is this paragon of black-business success.
You've got people saying, "Come to Durham. If you want to know what black business success looks like, don't go to Europe, don't go to Wall Street, come to Durham." -You had a thriving business community, and the tallest building in the black neighborhood was the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. -North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company was at the center of black Durham. Its founder was none other than John Merrick, the man who had built a barbershop empire.
North Carolina Mutual's founding credo was, "To relieve the distress of the Negro." -John Merrick said that when you bought a policy from North Carolina Mutual, you were not only buying insurance to take care of your family in a time of calamity but also providing white-collar jobs for black men and women. -The North Carolina Mutual Insurance Building is the biggest black business worldwide at the time, and and they make this purposeful decision to not be the tallest building in town, to be humble about their success as a business and not instigating that resentment that happened in other places.
-Alongside insurance companies, another finance industry sprung up to serve the growing needs of black consumers and businesses -- black banks. ♪♪ ♪♪ -Between 1890 and 1920, there were about 150, 200 black banks across the country, so in the South, in the segregated north in Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, there's a burgeoning industry. -Black businesses need access to capital and credit, which is in some instances impossible for them to get from white banks.
These banks are the most visible sign of African-Americans' engagement with finance and capital, which is the business of America, and banks are really the symbol of that. -In the Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia, one formidable businesswoman had a clear vision of what a black bank could do. -Let us put our monies together. ♪♪ Let us use our monies and reap the benefit ourselves.
♪♪ Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars. ♪♪ -Maggie Lena Walker is an exceptional woman. In 1903, Maggie Lena Walker becomes the first woman of any race to organize and lead a bank.
♪♪ -It was not a profit-oriented business. She's very public-serving, and that's how she sees her bank is, "This is a way I'm going to help the people." ♪♪ -The bulk of the investors in the Saint Luke Bank were working women... ♪♪ ...and they pooled together their money and bought shares to create the bank.
♪♪ The Saint Luke Bank, as well as other African-American banks, promoted this idea that African-Americans were good credit risks, and so they extended them money. It became the largest employer of women in the business field. -When the Great Depression began, Maggie Walker steered the Saint Luke bank through a merger, and the bank managed to survive, but most others were not so lucky. Many black businesses that were vibrant during the 1920s, in fact, did not survive. We saw many black banks across the country that were casualties of the Great Depression.
♪♪ ♪♪ -No group escaped the Depression unscathed, but few were hit harder than African-Americans. By 1932, nearly half of black workers were unemployed, and in some cities, there were calls to throw blacks out of jobs if any whites were out of work. ♪♪ Consumers that had been the lifeblood of black businesses, including banks, were left with little -- or nothing -- to spend. ♪♪ -Between 1888 and 1930, 134 banks are created and controlled by African-Americans. By 1930, there are only 12 left standing, and so that 12 cannot really respond to the intense economic needs of not only black individuals, but also black businesses. -When banks were reorganized in 1933, we saw the mainstream banking industry recover relatively quickly.
It really wasn't until the 1950s and '60s that we saw black banks recover. ♪♪ -As the economy began to rebound after the Great Depression, some black entrepreneurs were positioned for growth. -♪ Paid the cost to be the boss ♪ ♪♪ -S.B. Fuller had survived the Depression by selling soap door-to-door on Chicago's South Side.
Soon, he had a growing team of agents selling a range of personal-care products. -When I was a kid, I remember all the Fuller people. I remember the Saturdays, and you hear them shouting. They would have -- they would get together, and it's like a football coach. You know, in every city, you had these people meeting every Saturday and go out and selling these Fuller products.
-Starting with just a sixth-grade education and $25, Fuller built a conglomerate, including a department store, a theater, a string of black newspapers, and a factory. But in 1947, Fuller made a move that would make him one of the richest black men in the country. He purchased a cosmetics company called Boyer International from a white man. -The person who sold it to him did not say, "I sold my company to a black man."
He bought it in secret. And then S.B. Fuller started producing products that white people were buying. And he hired white salesmen.
-By the mid 1960s, Fuller was a multimillionaire, employing more than 5,000 people, both black and white, across 85 offices in 35 states. Then white Southerners got wind of who was the boss. -The South has long accepted African-Americans selling goods and services to other African-Americans, but for an African-American to sell to white consumers, especially in the South, that was considered to be an absolute no-no.
-He decided that he would have a company convention whereby he would let his employees know that he was proud of them. And here this black man walks out. ♪♪ -When it was publicized that a black man owned certain business entities, that created a firestorm. -The white response was immediate. They boycotted the product. That was like a turning point in his business activities.
-And it was sort of a tragic story as time went along because, after that episode, he declared bankruptcy. -In the 1960s, many whites simply could not accept black leadership of a mainstream consumer business. Yet one black entrepreneur did cross over by getting Americans to dance across the color line. ♪♪ Until then, the business of music had been strictly segregated. -As the music business began in the early 20th century, we were in the middle of the Jim Crow era. And as a result, the music industry is born in Jim Crow.
It retains the contours of Jim Crow. -It's bound up with incredibly racist white-supremacist ideas that were degrading to African-Americans. And this racist ideology moved right into the time of recorded sound. When you first have record labels like Victor Records coming into prominence, you don't see African-Americans having any ability to break into that business. -The irony of the American music business is that black Americans have provided the content for this business, the culture for this business, but have not had equity and have not had control of the access to it. -The only place African-Americans had a foothold in the business was on stage and behind the mic.
-Anybody with two good ears and two good eyes could see that for most of the 20th century, the music of white Americans had been black music, whether it be Louis Armstrong in the 1920s, 1930s, whether it be Ray Charles, Little Richard, Chuck Berry in the 1950s. What Motown did was find a way to get that equity from that cultural transaction. That's what Berry Gordy did. -Starting out, Gordy found inspiration in an unlikely place.
-He takes the job in the Ford factory. So he's at the Lincoln-Mercury assembly line. He's listening to all the machines rattle away day after day and he thinks, "I'm gonna start making music," listening to the beat of these machines. He starts composing some of his first songs on the assembly line. -In 1959, with an $800 loan from his family, Berry Gordy went from assembling some of the country's most popular cars to making the country's most popular music as the founder of Motown Records. ♪♪ With Motown, Berry Gordy put black people in charge of the business of music for the first time.
♪♪ With the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and Motown's crown jewel, the Supremes, Gordy brought that natural feeling to young people everywhere. -Whether you personally dig the Detroit sound or not, there's no question it's being dug by a lot of youngsters to the happy tune here of an estimated $15-million gross a year. -In its first 10 years, Motown placed an unparalleled 79 records on the Billboard 100 charts, thanks to Berry Gordy's ear for music and mind for business. -What he understood was the power of music. How do you create poppy two-and-a-half-minute songs that white kids will want to listen to on their car radios? -♪ Well, I guess you'd say ♪ ♪ What can make me feel this way? ♪ ♪ My girl ♪ -♪ My girl ♪ -♪ My girl ♪ ♪ Talkin' 'bout my girl ♪ -♪ My girl ♪ -♪ Ooh-hoo ♪ -Gordy really created a company that was capable of creating a product from womb to tomb, shall we say. ♪♪ He had songwriters on staff, producers on staff, musicians that worked in the studio day and night called the Funk Brothers.
He had a management company that took care of business affairs. He had a booking company. -It's not a one-man organization or two-man organization, but it is an organization of teamwork, and I could go on and name them all down the line who are the unseen heroes. ♪♪ -Gordy deliberately neutralized the discomfort of whites who might pose an obstacle to his progress. -He decides to hire white executives to go into these radio stations and pitch his product, and he gets people like Barney Ales to go in there and make these connections for him.
-Berry Gordy built the Motown brand through the '60s and '70s, and by 1983, the company had annual sales of over $100 million. Motown was the most successful black-owned business in America, and the first whose product successfully crossed over to white consumers. ♪♪ ♪♪ But corporate America was already getting acquainted with black consumers, thanks to another entrepreneur who had his finger on the pulse. ♪♪ -John Johnson was part of this tradition of black journalists, and his mission in terms of Ebony was to have a positive focus on the experiences of people of African descent. -I think Johnson Publications represent pride in black heritage. We want to build wholesome images of black people.
Before we came into being, there were no publications building the black image. -My father looked at magazines like Life magazine at the time and Look magazine at the time and saw that they were big and glossy and had great photos and great writing. He made the assumption that, if this works in this market, why can't this work and why can't this be good enough for the African-American market? -Johnson is taking advantage of the fact that there is a growing black middle class. And there really isn't much in the black press that addresses black Americans' interest and need for access to consumerism and also that talks about the experiences of the black elite. -To cultivate white advertisers, Johnson decided to use a language they would understand. He made a movie.
-Yes this is the market we're talking about, the new Negro family. All over the country families such as this are enjoying new prosperity. There are a lot of confused notions about the Negro customer. Negros own homes, They meet their payments faithfully.
They buy good brands of merchandise. So why let a lot of old-fashioned ideas hurt profits? -"The Secret of Selling the Negro Market" was a film done in the 1950s, and it sort of encapsulated what the Ebony consumer looked like. Professional, a little more well-to-do. I think what my father was trying to do with that film was to show the power of the African-American consumer, to say, "You know what? We buy products just like you do." -We know that Negro customers are turning more and more to the publications that are tailored specifically to their needs, that give them the news and the information that they want to read about. -Sounds like pretty good sales advice.
That's the secret of selling the Negro. -I recall when we could not even convince advertisers that a black market existed. And I think we were able to do it by pointing out that they could increase the return on the dollar if they cultivated the black market the same as they cultivated the other markets. ♪♪ -Johnson's plan worked, and Johnson Publishing became one of the largest black-owned businesses in America, generating tens of millions of dollars in sales around the world.
Yet when he decided to purchase property in downtown Chicago to serve as his headquarters, John Johnson hid his identity. -In order for him to buy that building, he had to pose as the janitor, and he put on overalls to walk through the building with a white person who was the purported buyer when the buyer actually was my father. This is what he had to do. That was humiliating for him, but he overcame that humiliation because he looked farther down the road and said, "Look, if I have to humble myself to do this, this is what I'm going to do because I see a bigger picture down the road." But yes, as a black man, it didn't matter what station you were.
He did whatever it took to get what he needed to sort of have this building be part of the message of what Ebony and Jet were. -In 1955, John Johnson was faced with one of the most important decisions of his career when Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy, was brutally murdered in Mississippi. ♪♪ -My father got a call from Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Till. She wanted the world to see what had been done to her son. And we sent, you know, photographers and writers to the funeral, which was an open casket, and we took the photos. And I remember my father years ago saying to me, "You know what, Linda? I was afraid to publish those at first, but I knew we had to do that.
We had to make a statement here." He ended up publishing the photos, and the world got to see our world, and the white world got to see the horrific, horrific result of beating this young boy at age 14. ♪♪ So it was a very defining moment. It was a defining moment for my father, it was a defining moment for civil rights, it was a defining moment for Jet, for the writers, for the photographers, But it had to be told. ♪♪ -It sickened your stomach. What, 50 years later? I still have that image.
Tremendous impact. Tremendous impact. -Johnson's publication of the Till photos in 1955 would help ignite the mass civil rights movement. ♪♪ Over the next decade, other business leaders would step up to play critical roles in the movement -- in front of and behind the scenes. ♪♪ ♪ I wish I knew how it would feel to be free ♪ ♪♪ -One of the most important contributions of businesses to the civil rights movement was one of space.
-You needed space to talk, you needed space to think, to organize, to resist. And black-owned institutions were critical spaces for them to do all of that work. -A.G. Gaston was the largest employer of blacks
in Birmingham, Alabama. He employed hundreds, if not thousands. In building his businesses, one of the things that he insisted on was that there be a place for black people to gather. -He opened the doors of his motel to allow the more radical leaders of the town, like Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, to meet in his buildings and plan their strategies for their protests.
And he allowed Martin Luther King Jr. to come in during the Birmingham campaign and stay in his motel. He was able to provide the bail money that Martin Luther King JRoger:. needed to get out of jail. -Martin Luther King was not a rich man, by far. He would not have been able to do what he had to do if he was not backed by a black millionaire like A.G. Gaston. -There was a real cost for him in this.
He paid a price. His Gaston motel was bombed during the Birmingham campaign. And before the 16th Street Church bombing in September of 1963, his own house was bombed. ♪♪ -Despite the threats to his life, A.G. Gaston would remain in Birmingham and continue to support the movement.
♪♪ ♪♪ -During the period of my upbringing, the civil rights movement was on the front pages of the newspaper every day. ♪♪ And so people commonly think about the marches that Dr. King led... but I was aware that a very small band of lawyers brought cases in the American South to ensure that this country lived up to the ideals that it claimed to about equal justice under law, and I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. The reason I chose the particular law firm I went to is it had a reputation for doing public interest work. So I do think I took a very unusual or unorthodox approach to becoming the CEO of Merck. ♪♪ For me, a lot of what Merck is doing is about another form of justice.
It's a higher form of ensuring that every life is treated as though it's worthy of dignity, respect, and high worth. ♪♪ We exist to save and improve human lives, to reduce human suffering, to reduce disease, and we do that through scientific innovation, through breakthrough research. What motivates you is this concept that people deserve justice, and it's unjust that certain people would have to become sick and die just because of who they are or where they live.
♪♪ I'm very fortunate that I was able to go from the inner city to where I am today, but there were a lot of important steps along that journey. ♪♪ I feel extremely fortunate to have been mentored by people all along the lines, and my success is really the result of the fact that people took a keen interest in me. ♪♪ I'm excited by where the company's going, and I'm pleased to have the opportunity to work for the company. I think we're heading in the right direction.
-When President Trump was first elected, he invited me to join the business council, and, you know, I had mixed feelings, to be honest, because, it was a very difficult, divisive election campaign. But, ultimately, I put aside my own personal feelings about the politics, the campaign. I thought it was my institutional responsibility as the CEO of this company to be in the room. I was just totally focused on making sure that whatever healthcare policies emanated from this administration were in the best interest of patients so they get meaningful and timely access to medicine. -Virginia's governor declared a state of emergency in Charlottesville today as white nationalists clashed. The violence included an attack on a crowd of peaceful protesters.
At least one person was killed. -It happened two hours after a planned protest billed as Unite the Right was shut down by police. -Moments ago at Trump Tower, the President of the United States painted white nationalists and members of the alt-right as victims in Charlottesville. When members of the KKK... -After the incident occurred in Charlottesville where the young woman was killed and I heard the President's comments, I felt very strongly that to not take any action at that point would be to sort of tacitly acknowledge and support the words that I heard and I felt very strongly as a matter of conscience that that wasn't the right thing for me to do.
-Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier is resigning from the President's American Manufacturing Council. Let me read you the... -It was pretty immediate decision for me that withdrawing from that business council would be the right thing to do. Thanks a lot.
-The fact that he did it publicly sent a strong message that you could be a high-level corporate executive, you can be a CEO, but he was saying you still can still be a person of integrity. -Hi. Nice to see you. -So good to see you. -How's it going? -So I think it sent a strong message throughout corporate America, and specifically to black corporate executives, about what leadership really is.
[ Indistinct shouting ] ♪♪ -By the mid 1960s, significant legal gains had been won by the civil rights movement. But legal advances were not enough. Beginning in 1965, frustration with poor housing, unemployment, and police brutality boiled over in one city after another.
[ Siren wails ] -♪ Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration ♪ ♪ Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Oh, yeah ♪ ♪ Ball Of Confusion ♪ -After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, people were left with this sense that if economic inequality persists, what does it mean for the future of business, and what does it mean for the future of communities? So people became keenly aware that the Civil Rights Act meant nothing if we fail to have the economic power to actually improve the quality of black life. -This executive order creates a government-wide, nationwide program of minority business enterprise. -By the early 1970s, the government had responded to the demands of the movement as well as the urban unrest by establishing programs to set aside federal contracts exclusively for minority-owned businesses. -The biggest customer in America, maybe the biggest -- one of the biggest customers in the world is the federal government. It allowed black businesses to bid on major large-sized contracts that they had traditionally been excluded from, and overnight created some of the largest black-owned businesses as a result.
-This project, it being constructed by a black company, and I would just like this to be a focal point and to really show America what we can do. -This program created more black millionaires, multimillionaires in the late '70s or early '80s than probably any other single piece of federal efforts to grow and develop black-owned businesses. -Never. -Never. -Never. -Never. -Never shall I let you down.
[ Cheers and applause ] -♪ Brother's gonna work it out ♪ ♪ Brother's gonna work it out ♪ ♪ Brother's gonna work it all out ♪ ♪♪ ♪ Now, don't give him no peace... ♪ -Beginning in the 1970s and into th