Abstract: Reconciling Black Capitalism, Affirmative Action, and Black Power: Black-Owned Insurance Companies and the State, 1940-1980

Christy Chapin


During the post-World War II era, African American insurance executives espoused politically conservative positions and opposed government intervention in the economy. However, government policies designed to protect and bolster the white-operated economy severely damaged black-owned insurance companies. The industry's downturn, combined with the Civil Rights movement and developments in black economic thought, led African American insurance executives to modify their ideological position. At the end of the 1960s, they called for government subsidies under federal "black capitalism" programs, assumed positions at the vanguard of the affirmative action movement, and employed Black Power rhetoric to encourage consumers to purchase their products. This narrative challenges the contention that integration necessarily had to destroy black business and offers a case study to examine why conservative black businessmen, mainstream Civil Rights leaders, and Black Power activists converged around the idea that ameliorating economic disparities would require more far-reaching governmental and societal remedies than simply ending legal inequality.