As Spendefy celebrates the birth of Civil Rights leader and revolutionary Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. it would benefit us all to evaluate his contribution not only to battling the social blight of Jim Crow racism but the economic injustice that thrived within segregated America. Though 48 years have passed since Dr. King’s tragic assassination, our generation is tasked with overcoming similar obstacles to collective progress and prosperity.
Access to quality education, jobs, and housing were some of the main objectives that King sought in pursuing his goal of a more just America. Black-owned businesses were also central to King’s social vision and he was an aggressive advocate for African Americans leveraging their economic power to effect change in the political arena. Whether it was the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Operation Breadbasket, advocacy for black unionism, or his support for black-owned banks, King was aware that fundamentally altering the circulation of the black dollar was an indispensable element in any radical agenda for social change.
This was apparent in 1967 when King championed the power black industry, stating “in relation to the Negro community the value of Negro business should not be underestimated. In the internal life of the Negro community it offers a degree of stability.” Generations later African American entrepreneurs have made a lasting impact in multiple sectors but this progress shouldn’t distract us from broader socioeconomic realities that require community based solutions.
In today’s America, where telecommunications and tech platforms connect communities of buyers and consumers like never before, methods to bring about this culture of economic solidarity are abundant. Nonetheless, the forces of discrimination continue to slam the door on many when it comes to implementing this vision. As the renowned African American tech entrepreneur Hank Williams remarked in his assessment of race relations in the tech industry, “it is much harder for even the most talented African Americans in the tech world to gain access to influential, insightful, connected mentors, let alone investors.”
Regrettably, this is an outcome that is in many ways similar to those faced by members of King’s generation who faced comparable barriers to entry in some of the nation’s most thriving sectors of industry. Dr. King’s solution to the ills of his time offers insight into possible paths forward for those of us in the 21st century: “Along with requesting new job opportunities, we are now requesting that businesses with stores in the ghetto deposit the income for those establishments in Negro owned banks and that Negro owned products be placed on the counters of all there stores.”
King’s appeal speaks directly to the predicament of today’s business owners and consumers and should inspire us to not only celebrate Dr. King’s legacy but to fully embrace his economic challenge to all who fight more a more just world.