For centuries, immigrants came to America seeking religious tolerance, political freedom, and, perhaps most of all, economic opportunity. That generalization, of course, loses all its force in the exceptional case of African-Americans. Not only were Africans forcibly transplanted from their homes, they were delivered to America in order to serve the economic interests of slaveholders. After the Civil War, despite the rhetoric of “forty acres and a mule,” virtually all of the newly freed slaves found themselves without economic resources. Moreover, the relatively rapid establishment of tenant-farming arrangements that, in many ways, were similar to serfdom stunted opportunities for economic progress for generations of Southern blacks. Not surprisingly, then, a significant part of black history since emancipation can be understood as an effort to catch up and share in American opportunity and prosperity.
There was some progress in the 1930s and 1940s in terms of industrial employment. During that same period, small, black-owned businesses flourished in black communities. But it was not until the decades following 1960 that there was enough steady advancement to allow blacks to think realistically about achieving the American dream—a dream that traditionally implied ownership of a home and even a business.
The gains in employment, the professions, and education were an important stage in the long journey toward economic equality, but it is a journey that is far from over. Incomes of blacks and whites remain significantly different, and data on wealth show an even more dramatic disparity. The latter measure is a reflection of several factors, including the obviously greater difficulty of saving if one has a modest income. It also is related to the still limited equity and business ownership by African-Americans.
Despite international mega-mergers, small businesses remain not