Abstract: Supplementing Civil Rights: The Federal Government's Promotion of African American Entrepreneurship during the 1960s

Robert Weems


During the fall of 1961, the U.S. Commerce Department sponsored a conference to examine the status of black business in America. The proceedings of this meeting included remarks by a young Commerce Department administrator, Eugene P. Foley, who stated his interest in supplementing the evolving civil rights movement with the promotion of black entrepreneurship. Nearly three years later, in March 1964, Foley, now the administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) convinced Congress to add a loan provision for small business to Title IV of the Economic Opportunity Act. This resulted in the creation of the Economic Opportunity Loan Program (EOL) later that year. Foley and his successors at the SBA initially viewed the EOL program as a proactive response to urban black poverty. As time went along, the EOL and similar programs to promote black entrepreneurship were also viewed as a powerful reactive strategy to help quell growing African American urban unrest. Besides the noteworthy efforts of Eugene Foley, Abraham Venable of the Commerce Department was another 1960s government bureaucrat who devised innovative programs to promote entrepreneurship in the black community. Based on the visibility of SBA and Commerce Department programs to stimulate black entrepreneurship, during the pivotal presidential election of 1968 both Republican and Democratic candidates promised that, if elected, they would give high priority to promoting black business development. Richard Nixon, the subsequent winner, kept this campaign promise by establishing the Office of Minority Business Enterprise (through Executive Order 11458) on March 5, 1969.