Support for Black Businesses declining, what’s the story?

Black-owned Business Enterprises, as we know them historically, are disappearing off the landscape in the Metropolitan Monroe community.

The oldest Black-owned Business in Monroe is the Richardson Funeral Home which is about 89 years old.  It is followed by Reliable Insurance Company/Miller’s Funeral Home which has operated for about 84 years through three generations of the Miller Family.

In March, the Free Press will showcase our local Black Business community in two ways: We will look at past business pioneers and then look at the present generation. We are trying hard to verify our information, but it gets difficult since so many of the pioneers have died and records have disappeared.

There is a story attached to every business, so we are looking for memories and anecdotes that our readers have to keep the memory of these business leaders of the past alive.

We hope to share memories of Hill’s Bar Be Que,  James Bolden’s Barber Shop on DeSiard. Many will recall Robert and Dorothy Barber Shop on DeSiard Street. We remember how Mr. Robert Henry refused to charge more than $2 for a haircut, even though others charged $10.

There are those who can recall the Giant Shrimps served at Nelson Drive Inn or the smoke-filled Saturday nights at Cain’s Lounge or Willie T’s Cafe.
Our Goal is to produce a combination Business Directory and Business History in one special edition. It will be a special edition and a historical keep sake.

Prior to the 1970’s, the local Black business community was huge. Those with storefronts were crowded into the Black business district that ran from N. 14th Street to N. 5th or Five-Points. There was a wide assortment of businesses that included insurance companies, a movie theater, hotels, law offices and hundreds of other establishments.

After the 1964 Civil Rights passed, Black retail businesses began to decline. New laws made it possible for Blacks to patronize white businesses without fear of racial discrimination and we abandoned Black-owned businesses for those operated by competing white business.

During segregation, blacks could not work in most white owned-businesses in responsible positions. The general feeling was “Don’t shop where you can’t work,” our community was willing to pay more to maintain Black businesses rather than suffer racial discrimination.

After 1964, the legal landscape changed, and as it changed, gradually our support for Black businesses began to decline.

Two men tried to make local governments patronize Black businesses. Charles Johnson was a member of the Monroe City Council and Van H. Brass, was a member of the City School Board. Both men pressed hard for their respective governments to spend at least 10 percent of its procurement dollars with Black-owned businesses.

Until 1996, the city produced a printout each month showing the number and dollar amount of city purchases with Black businesses either locally or from out of state.

Brass managed to get the City School Board to do the same thing.
Ironically, once both governments were controlled by Black majorities, the push to patronize Black businesses disappeared. The Mayo Administration fought against a Black firm that was the lowest bidder for the new airport and pushed against any Black newspaper serving as the official journal.

Monroe City Schools does not produce its list any longer, but uses a black contractor from Mississippi for most of its architectural work; outside of the out of state black contractor, the board spends little with Black businesses.

Neither government makes a conscious effort to insure that Black businesses are patronized.

That attitude reflected a general lack of support for Black business in the community itself. Black businesses were placed in the competitive pool with all others. Many Blacks called on Black businesses if others were not available or if they needed a “Soul Brother Deal.”

In the 1960’s there were nearly 500 Black businesses on record. How many are there now?

That’s what we hope to find out and report when our Black Business Directory hits the street in March.