Black Capitalism and Self Help in the Era of Richard Nixon: Black Power Alternatives from Grassroots Activists to the White House

AHA Session 134
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Robert E. Weems Jr., Wichita State University
Juliet E. K. Walker, University of Texas at Austin

Session Abstract

Floyd McKissick, Arthur Fletcher, and other black supporters of Richard Nixon have been virtually ignored, or dismissed as aberrations, by much of the traditional narrative of Black Power. Recently, however, the story of black nationalists and businessmen who supported a conservative interpretation of “self-help,” and their interaction with Richard Nixon and the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s, has been the subject of some of the most innovative studies of Black Power and black politics. The works of Thomas Sugrue, Manning Marable, Robert Weems, and Devin Fergus have revealed convincing evidence of not only the existence of alternative “self-help” strains within the Black Power movement, but also their vitality in shaping the Republican Party’s domestic initiatives. Although they never represented a majority of African Americans, persons like McKissick and Fletcher who promoted the virtues of “black capitalism,” were an influential force that guided Richard Nixon’s domestic policy agenda, including hundreds of millions of dollars directed towards black-owned businesses.[1]

This panel builds upon recent scholarship by providing deeper analysis of the black capitalism movement, its adherents, and its relationship with the Republican Party. In the spirit of the AHA’s theme of “Disagreement, Debate, Discussion,” we hope to offer a constructive discussion of alternative expressions of Black Power that fall outside the purview of the ideologies of the Black Panthers, US, and other organizations that typically take center stage in our popular memory of the Black Power movement. Among other things, this session highlights the disagreements and debates that occurred inside black communities regarding strategies to implement “black power.” Our first paper, “From Pasco, Washington, to Washington, DC: Arthur A. Fletcher and the American Dream, 1965-1968,” explores Arthur Fletcher’s East Pasco Self-Help Cooperative Association, which provided a launching pad for his subsequent role as the “father of affirmative action” inside the Nixon Administration. Our second paper, “‘Bootstrap Black Power’: Free Enterprise, Richard Nixon, and the Transformation of the Congress of Racial Equality” explains Nixon’s embrace of “Black Power” as a response to a conservative strain of black nationalism that emanated from the Congress of Racial Equality and found a comfortable niche among a segment of Black Power’s most vocal proponents. Our final paper, “Acquiring ‘A Piece of the Action’: The Rise and Fall of the Black Capitalism Movement,” focuses on the black capitalism movement from the grassroots level from its indigenous origins within black communities in the 1960s to the causes of its ultimate demise by the mid-to-late 1970s.

[1] Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008); Robert Weems, Jr., with Lewis A. Randolph, Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century (New York: New York University Press, 2009); Devin Fergus, Liberalism, Black Power, and the Making of American Politics, 1965-1980 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009); Manning Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006, 3rd ed. (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2007).

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