From Riots to Renaissance: Black Business

The seeds of Bronzeville's thriving economy were sown in the population boom of the 1910s and '20s. As the number of blacks in the city soared during the Great Migration, demand for goods and services rose and businessmen and entrepreneurs rushed to satisfy the needs of black consumers. Drug stores, barber shops, fish markets, beauty parlors, florists – everything a resident could want or need was found close to home in the busy shopping districts of the black community.

Though black businesses were dramatically out numbered by those of whites, they received the support of community campaigns encouraging residents to shop in black establishments. Civic organizations, social clubs, even preachers used their pulpits to promote the concept of the "Double Duty Dollar," making a dollar do double duty: first through purchasing a good or service, and second by supporting racial progress through shopping at black owned stores.

However, black businesses faced unique challenges. Financing from traditional banks was hard to come by, if available at all; white property owners refused to rent to blacks or charged exorbitant rates; blacks were in competition against white merchants with more resources; and some blacks believed that black businesses were inferior to those of whites.

Still, with most downtown stores unwelcoming, if not off limits to blacks, there were few choices beyond the black neighborhoods. As Bronzeville's population grew more affluent – and racial pride, along with political activism, blossomed – this city within a city embraced the idea of financial power and economic control and in the process generated a dynamic, multi-million dollar black economy.