The Encyclopedia of African American Business History has two purposes: to illuminate the historic continuity of black business in America from the colonial era to the post–civil rights era and to underscore the diversity of black business activities from slavery to freedom. Historically, business activities have provided African Americans with their greatest economic success. As George Fraser, a leading promoter of black business in the late twentieth century, has said: ‘‘Success Runs in Our Race.’’ Yet while the names of multimillionaires John H. Johnson of Ebony and Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, are recognized by most black Americans, and many whites as well, other leading black entrepreneurs are less well known. Simply put, black business history has remained peripheral in the scholarly study of the African American experience. Rather, the oral black history tradition and the black press have contributed more to sustaining the collective memories of black business activities and leading black entrepreneurs than the published scholarly record. Indeed, recognition of the icon of black business history, the early twentieth-century millionaire hair care products manufacturer Madame C. J. Walker, in a U.S. postal stamp in 1997 reflects the sustaining power of the black written and oral history in the public record.
Incontrovertibly, slavery remains the defining experience for blacks in America. Even in the closing decade of the twentieth century, full freedom from racism and complete equality for the descendants of former slaves have yet to be obtained. Yet in their continuing search for freedom, the agency of blacks in forging their own economic liberation through business activities and entrepreneurship has had a long tradition. Even during slavery, leading black entre-