The Encyclopedia provides information on the African American business experience from the 1600s to the 1990s in three types of entries: biographies of black businesspeople; topics in black business history; and, surveys of black business participation in selected industries. At the beginning of each biographical entry information is provided on the geographic location and name of or type of business activity that distinguishes the businessperson. The general format of a biography is to provide an overview of the individual’s business activities followed by a broader discussion of the development and successes or failures of the enterprises. In some entries a chronological discussion of the early life of the individual precedes the information presented on the founding and development of his/her business activities.
The entries on business history topics focus on black enterprise activities distinctive to a specific historic period such as slave business activities, free black enterprises, and black business during the Great Migration. There are also entries on topics in black business history distinctive to the post–Civil Rights era. The several comprehensive survey entries review the history of black business participation in a particular industry, such as blacks in transportation.
The more than 200 entries included in the Encyclopedia are arranged alphabetically. Additional topics related to an entry are indicated by an asterisk (*). As an example, biographical entries of black businesspeople often detail specific examples of their philanthropy. The term philanthropy will have an asterisk to indicate that there is a specific entry on philanthropy. In the biographical entry on Harold Washington, black mayors will have an asterisk to indicate that there is a separate entry on that topic.