Abstract: The Invincible Sons and Daughters of Commerce: Gendering the Early National Negro Business League in the Ambiguous South, 1900-1906

Shennette Garrett


Created in 1900 by Booker T. Washington, the National Negro Business League (NNBL) was the largest, most influential black business and professional organization during the "Golden Age of Black Business" from 1900 to 1930. The early NNBL reflected the aspirations of black entrepreneurs who were supremely confident in their ability to affect the fortunes of the nation as they increased their own. This paper explores how enterprising black men and women linked their business activities to a progressive social and political agenda during the organization's formative years. It argues that taxonomies of accommodation and protest do not sufficiently describe black political and social activism. Valences of race and gender encouraged entrepreneurs to address vital social, economic, and political concerns within the black community and in American society, such as de jure Jim Crow, American imperialism, lynching, and racist stereotypes in popular culture. However, the NNBL remained ambivalent about the role of women in business and society. Thus, through examples of prominent and obscure black business men and women, the paper reveals how entrepreneurship mediated the complexities evident in black political ideologies and activities near the turn of the century.