Negro Business and Business Education

Joseph A Pierce published the book Negro Business and Business Education (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1947) during his time as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Atlanta University. We present below some information about this book by giving extracts from reviews of the book, from the Introduction to a 1995 reprint of the book, and beginning with a description from the Atlanta University Bulletin. We note that most of the reviews praise the book which has become a classic but one review is highly critical.

1. New Book by Pierce Off The Press.
The Atlanta University Bulletin (3) 60 (December 1947), 15-16.

Off the press in October was the 338-page book, Negro Business and Business Education, by Joseph A Pierce, chairman of the department of mathematics and statistics at Atlanta University. The book was published by Harper and Brothers of New York and London.

Full of factual information, Negro Business and Business Education is the first systematic account of the Negro's position and opportunity in the business life of the United States. Divided into two major sections, it first examines the background, present status and probable future of business enterprises owned and operated by Negroes, which the author discusses under such topics as "The Evolution of Negro Business," "The Enterprises - An Over-All View," "Life Insurance Companies," "Banking and Lending Institutions," "Consumer Cooperatives," "Problems of Business Operation" and "A Business Philosophy." In Book II, he discusses the current status and problems of business education in Negro colleges and universities under such topics as "The Evolution of Business Education Among Negroes," "The Present Status of Business Education Among Negroes" and "The Needs and Problems of Business Education Among Negroes."

Dr Pierce's book is the result of an Atlanta University project for the study of Negro business and a survey of business education courses in twenty Negro colleges including Atlanta University, Clark College, Dillard University, Fisk University, Georgia State College, Hampton Institute, Houston College for Negroes, Howard University, LeMoyne College. Lincoln University (Missouri), Louisville Municipal College, Morehouse College, Morgan State College, Morris Brown College, North Carolina College for Negroes, Spelman College, Tennessee A & I State College, Virginia State College, Virginia Union University and Wilberforce University. The survey also investigated 3,866 businesses owned and operated by Negroes in the following twelve cities: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Durham, Houston, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond, Savannah, St Louis and Washington. The project was promoted in close conjunction with the National Urban League and was supported by a General Education Board grant. Numerous individuals and organisations contributed to the building of essential data.

The author earned the A.B. degree at Atlanta University and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Michigan. Formerly professor of mathematics at Wiley College, he is co-author of the freshman text Introductory College Mathematics. He holds full membership in Sigma Xi, national honorary scientific society.

2. Extract from Introduction II by: John Sibley Butler.
Joseph A Pierce, Negro Business and Business Education (Springer Science + Business Media, 1995).

The original proposal to study people of African descent and business education was developed in order to enhance the business activity of communities. It was done at a time when institutions of higher learning were adding business school to a liberal arts curriculum. In a speech at a conference held in Atlanta in the early 1940s, Pierce opened the meeting with an address entitled "Problems and Needs of Business Education among Negroes, Including Problems Related to Curricula, Vocational Guidance, Teaching Personnel, and Cooperation between Business Men and Teachers." The meeting was attended by representatives of government, education, the National Negro Business League, and the National Negro Insurance Association. In this 1944 speech, Pierce brought together the history of enterprise among people of African descent - as had been documented in the literature - and the need for a study on the relationship between education and business enterprise:
I am very happy to see that this Conference has been called in Atlanta, the nerve centre of the South and the nerve centre of Negro business and Negro higher education in the South. I am also very happy to participate in this Conference which, I hope, will have for its purpose a thorough study and survey, both now and in the future, of the growing field of Negro business. Thanks to the initiative of our pioneers in business and to the needs of the Negro community, our economic structure has developed so rapidly that a serious study should be made of this subject with the ultimate objective of giving direction to its trend.

... Wilberforce in 1895 and Fisk in 1916 were the first two institutions to offer courses in business in order to meet the small but growing need on the Negro's part to acquire at least a rudimentary knowledge of economic and business principles. The early twenties was the era of Negro business boom when Negro businessmen talked about million-dollar corporations as if they were playthings and when all kinds of wildcat business enterprises including a Negro stock exchange were opened. Stimulated by the glowing pictures of an independent black economy painted by our businessmen, six more colleges opened two-year secretarial training courses to meet the need for secretarial and clerical work. Educators, however, soon realised that merely teaching students how to typewrite or how to take dictation would not be meeting the rapidly growing demand for young men and women capable of organising and managing small-business enterprises of their own. As a result, the late twenties witnessed the institutions already having two-year secretarial training curricula enlarge them into four-year curricula, while others introduced either two-year or four-year curricula, or both. On the eve of the stock market crash of 1929, there were twelve colleges offering four-year courses leading to bachelors degrees [in business]. Today, there are twenty-eight colleges offering four-year courses, and twenty-two of these had opened business departments since 1926.
As Pierce conceptualised the relationship between business education and the business world, he understood and predicted the place of business education in institutions of higher education. More to the point, he understood that business education, or what we today call the business school, had to be carefully placed in the institution so that students could continue to be introduced to a broad education. In the same speech quoted above, he concentrated on the importance of a broad education with reference to "white" schools:
In their desire to be "different" from white colleges, many Negro colleges have made a complete "mess" of the cultural side of their business curricula by devoting minimum attention to it. If white colleges are gradually realising the need for broad training by requiring at least two years of liberal education for their business students, there is all the more reason why Negro colleges place even a greater emphasis on this aspect of their curricula. This emphasis is necessary for counterbalancing, so far as it is humanly possible, the defective environmental background of Negro students who are precluded from getting the full benefits of the social heritage of our white compatriots. Such education ... will prove helpful to the student in building up a well-integrated personality. There appears to be no doubt in the minds of educators that specialisation in the early stage of a student's college career is dangerous as it tends to make him narrow and one-track minded.
3. Extract from Introduction III by: John Sibley Butler.
Joseph A Pierce, Negro Business and Business Education (Springer Science + Business Media, 1995).

Negro Business and Business Education fits extremely well into the present concern with ethnic enterprise in America. It is a book that scholars should find extremely important as they analyse the relationship between business enterprise and race and ethnicity in America. It is also a work that could be instrumental in defining the importance of business enterprise and business education for policymakers who struggle with solving many of the problems found in some parts of communities composed of people of African descent.

Negro Business and Business Education will make a great contribution to the literature that has developed around the study of ethnic enterprise in America. In fact, many of the theoretical ideas discussed in the literature on ethnic enterprise can be found in the book.

4. Review by: H Naylor Fitzhugh.
The Journal of Negro Education 17 (4) (1948), 497-500.

The Atlanta University study, directed and edited by Dr Joseph A Pierce, professor of statistics, covered twelve cities, mainly in the South, during the period, 1944 to 1946. The director was assisted by several advisory committees and consultants; by local directors, business teachers, students, business operators, and Urban League representatives in the participating cities; and by seventeen cooperating colleges.

Dr Pierce's book revolves mainly around a survey of 3,866 enterprises owned and operated by Negroes in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Durham, Houston, Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Richmond, St. Louis, Savannah, and Washington, together with a closer study of a 10 per cent representative sample of these firms. The enterprises are classified under three major categories - retail, service, and miscellaneous - as well as under specific lines within each of these major classifications. In addition, special surveys are presented on life insurance companies, banks, building and loan associations, consumer cooperatives, and the business education programs in fifteen Negro schools.

Approximately seventy-five per cent of the book is devoted to a recital of the detailed statistical findings on the above subjects. Some of these data will be useful for special reference purposes, and Dr Pierce has included a very detailed index and extensive bibliographical notes which will greatly facilitate the use of the book as a reference source. The reader must exercise considerable caution, however, in making use of those generalisations in the report which are based upon the very small samples of 470 consumers from twelve cities and of 303 employees from ten cities.

None of the chapters in the larger segment just referred to presents any summaries or conclusions which would form a systematic or scientific basis for the remaining chapters, dealing with the problems of "Negro business," the needs and problems of business education among Negroes, and "a pervasive philosophy of Negro business." As a consequence, most of the conclusions and recommendations presented either are drawn from secondary sources outside of the main body of the investigation or else represent generalisations which could have been advanced without the benefit of a definitive survey.

Dr Pierce concludes that "the aims of business education in an individual college should be determined from the conditions and demands of the business communities which it serves; from the possibilities, aspirations, and needs of its students; and from the resources which the institution has available to meet the needs of its students and of business." Again, he suggests that "Negro colleges with their limited resources would do well to consider jointly their responsibilities to business and then decide what specific area each is to serve. ... This calls for ... demarcation of areas of instruction, and the consolidation of efforts and resources." He also finds a need for Negro graduate schools of business, which could furnish men trained to think and qualified to assume posts of business leadership. He urges colleges to make fuller use of apprenticeship or cooperative training programs in collaboration with local firms. Colleges are also challenged to tackle the question of credit sources for Negroes in business, and to survey new fields of possible business endeavour. In this latter connection, incidentally, Dr Pierce offers an unfortunate suggestion when he prophesies that "Negroes should find it possible to gain a more solid foothold in the manufacturing business. Not only is there the Negro market, but, a worth-while product would also find sales on the white market."

5. Review by: Abram L Harris.
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 260 (1948), 238-239.

This is perhaps the most exhaustive study ever made of business enterprise among the American Negroes. It was initiated by Atlanta University and the National Urban League, and carried forward by a grant from the General Education Board. Credit for directing the field work, for interpreting the results, and for publishing them in the present form goes to Dr Joseph A Pierce of the faculty of Atlanta University. In directing the investigation Dr Pierce was assisted by numerous colleagues at his own and other institutions and by several organisations engaged in promoting Negro business.

The study is based upon a survey of 3,866 enterprises owned and operated by Negroes in twelve cities in which the Negro population is concentrated. The survey was made in 1944. Some new developments have occurred since then but they do not appear to be of such magnitude significantly to modify the tenor of Dr Pierce's conclusions. The topics discussed by the author may be classified, somewhat broadly, as follows: (1) the extent of Negro business and the areas of greatest success; (2) the character of Negro business, which includes a statement of (a) types of ownership, and (b) management and managerial policies; (3) limitations and shortcomings; and (4) the role of formal business education.

The recurring theme in the book is the widespread lack of formal business education among the operators and employees of Negro enterprises. This deficiency, one would gather from the author's statements, is the most important single cause of the internal weakness of Negro enterprises. Dr Pierce thinks that the remedy is to be found in programs of business training offered by his own and similar institutions.

6. Review by: Wroe Alderson.
Phylon (1940-1956) 8 (4) (1947), 382-383.

The Negro who seeks a career in business faces exceptional hazards and difficulties. The rewards of business success are very great from both the individual viewpoint and the race viewpoint. It is to be hoped that young Negroes of outstanding ability will enter business in increasing numbers and that the quality of their educational preparation will be continuously improved.

These conclusions are drawn from a reading of Negro Business and Business Education by Dr Joseph A Pierce of Atlanta University. The book reports the findings of an extensive study undertaken by the university in cooperation with the National Urban League. The investigation was obviously carried out in a very competent and comprehensive fashion. The report fills one of the most serious gaps in our knowledge of the Negro's place in American economic life. It will stand for a long time to come as a landmark for educators, business men, and general students of the American scene.

The author wisely calls for business philosophy based on efficiency and competitive values offered to the consumer rather than on pleas for race loyalty. Except for a few fields like insurance in which white companies have been slow to serve Negroes, the Negro consumer like the white consumer buys where the best values are to be obtained. Since the Negro business man must compete for the patronage of members of his own race, he need not exclude whites in his community as prospects if he can reach them on the basis of superior service and value.

7. Review by: Edward N Palmer.
American Journal of Sociology 54 (4) (1949), 83-384.

Since the business unit is a basic component of the social structure, the emergence of a considerable literature concerning this phenomenon is to be expected. Nor is it surprising that the status of economically disadvantaged minorities in the field of business should elicit attention. Under the sponsorship of the National Urban League and Atlanta University and with a grant from the General Education Board, Mr Pierce and his associates have prepared a volume which purports to set forth the present and prospective development of Negro business and business education.

Negro businessmen and their employees, graduates of business departments, and consumers were enumerated, with the cooperation of several Negro colleges, in twelve geographically dispersed southern and border cities. The time of the investigation (1944), the size and selection of the sample, and the method of collecting the data are open to serious question. For example, the author notes that "although complete enumeration was requested, many businesses were overlooked in the survey." The 10 per cent sample drawn from this survey, on which the major findings of the study are based, is obviously biased, particularly when it is noted that three of the twelve cities are not represented at all. An admittedly atypical sample of four hundred and seventy Negro consumers is actually used as the source of generalisations about Negro consuming habits. The participating colleges supervised and conducted the local surveys, and "the local director was responsible for the selection of the sample." It is apparent that there was no genuine effort to standardise the calibre of the enumerators and the extent of local participation.

The presentation of these doubtful data is weak. The lack of data on comparable white businesses, excessive use of quotations, and occasional puerile statements (e.g., "the great over-all need of the Negro business man is an inclusive philosophy of business which, when put to work, will have as its goal the complete integration of Negro business into the general American economy") do not add strength to the study.

This volume is by no means a definitive study of Negro business and business education. It is not in the tradition of the excellent Atlanta University studies done under the direction of Dr W E B DuBois. It is not a recommendation for the efficacy of cooperative research. It is fodder for those who hold that the social scientists are pretenders but not producers of rigorous research. It is to be hoped that a substantial study of this important subject is in the offing. The present investigation sorely needs supplanting.

8. Review by: C G Woodson.
The Journal of Negro History 33 (1) (1948), 97-99.

When one compares the small capital invested by Negroes in business with the millions controlled by other groups he is inclined to dismiss the thought of the Negro as a factor in business. Yet from time immemorial the Negro here and there has been struggling to make a success at business. At times even before the general emancipation Negroes figured prominently in the business sphere in various parts of America. The volume of their business never attained a large figure, but the effort was enduring. Probably in those days of small enterprises the Negro business man, in proportion to the trade of most others operating generally on the small basis, was a more prominent figure in the business world than he is today in the midst of large combinations and trusts.

The author of this volume is still sanguine as to the final outcome of the Negro as a commanding business man. He acquires such confidence from this survey of the Negro in business before the general emancipation, from facts as to the present status of such enterprises, their personnel, the status of insurance companies and banks, cooperative efforts, and sanguine expectations as to the possible, if not probable, solution of the many problems now facing the Negro business man. The author looks rather to the infiltration and the integration of Negroes into the American business structure. This will mean a change from the defence philosophy based on race pride to the realisation that the Negro can succeed in business only by partaking completely of the characteristics of American business. The necessary change in the mind of the Negro business man poses a task for those who have seen the light of the day and especially for educators with vision to penetrate the future and prepare the youth accordingly. Evidently, without enlarging too much upon the point, the Negro as a business man has just as often constructed his plans in the light of a false philosophy which has failed as he has dared to face the issue as a business man rather than as a Negro in business.

The disadvantages of Negro business men are many. Their establishments are isolated as a rule in the Negro neighbourhood, far from the main stream of trade. Negroes enter those businesses in which they do not compete with white men, and they do not supply all the needs of their own people among whom they operate. The Negro starts out with little capital and his credit is usually limited. Individual ownership is the rule and corporate ownership assuring expansion into enterprises of large proportions is the exception. Managers of their enterprises do not keep accurate records and do not study conditions sufficiently to understand the market in which they operate. They often buy heavily of what they cannot easily sell and fail to supply those articles for which there is a demand. These many disadvantages compel the Negro business man to try to recoup his losses by selling his wares at higher prices than other establishments require. His sales, therefore, decline and he does not long continue unless something unforeseen develops to interfere with the law of progress in the business sphere.

The personnel, moreover, does not measure up to the required standard. A disproportionate number of the operators of Negro enterprises are advanced in age, have not been educated for this service, and often have the wrong attitude toward their customers. Not infrequently employees have no interest in the success of the undertakings of their employers. Sometimes they show a lack of courtesy to customers, cause misunderstandings from careless and inefficient transactions, and create trouble by efforts to deceive the buyer. They might prove to be eminently successful by knowing thoroughly what the firm has to sell, the purposes it will serve, the special features of the article, and the need of the customer for it. All these shortcomings are not peculiar to the Negro, but to the condition in which he finds himself. Knowing this to be the situation, however, the Negro cannot console himself with the thought that it is not his fault. He must face odds as others have done and triumph over them.

So many of the shortcomings herein mentioned are due to the lack of knowledge that education is herein emphasised as important. Such education as is offered today in most colleges, however, is inadequate. The training is more theoretical than practical. Negroes graduating from such courses, moreover, do not serve apprenticeships in well established business because of the lack of such opportunities, and some of them, anxious to take commanding positions, do not take such practical training even when such opportunities are available. Most enterprises among Negroes of today are managed and controlled by men with little education bearing on what they have undertaken, and the problem today is how the schools may turn out men of the proper type who will have the vision of working toward integration into the structure of American business when men will depend upon efficiency rather than race pride.

9. Review by: Mozell C Hill.
Social Forces 26 (4) (1948), 482-483.

Negro Business and Business Education which is the latest publication in Harper's series on Negro Life in the United States, along with books by Myrdal, Northrup, Klineberg, Johnson, and others, makes a noteworthy addition to this accumulation of first-rate studies on the subject. Doctor Pierce's book is the first to attempt a comprehensive scientific analysis of the position of Negrocs in the business structure of the Nation. As such the book cannot be appraised comparatively as a treatise in a well-developed field, but rather as a bold pioneering endeavour which reveals additional insight into the economic status and economic behaviour of Negroes on the American scene. For those who wish to understand and deal with the position and opportunities of Negroes, especially in the business world, the book will be found extraordinarily stimulating, informative, and provocative. Not only is the volume strongly commendable to students and laymen interested in business and business education, but also deserves the same attention from social scientists, particularly economists and sociologists. Moreover, the book should obviously be on the "must" list of those engaged in business whether big or small, as well as college teachers in the field of business education.

The author addresses himself to two major problem areas, and considers each area as essential to an understanding of the other, and both as indispensable to an overview of the problem as a whole: one is a searching inquiry into the back- ground, present status, and future of Negro business; the other explores and ferrets out the essential features, status, and problems of business education in Negro colleges. In this connection, something should be said about the objectivity of the author. The success and the validity of the study were due, in part, to Doctor Pierce's ability to organise a cooperative research effort, and to utilise the work of other scholars and secure their cooperation. In addition, the author conducted an exhaustive examination of the literature relative to his problems and documented his materials in a scientific manner. That the study is methodologically sound is attested by the author's dispassionate approach to his materials and the employment of the most appropriate statistical techniques for analysis.

The greatest contribution of the book is its compression of a voluminous array of essential facts into a short volume so that the reader may achieve a rapid understanding of the problems underlying the present position of Negroes in the business structure of the Nation. For this reason, the volume might just as well have been titled: A handbook of Negro Business. Another significant contribution is the way Doctor Pierce very skilfully examines some of the philosophical problems underlying Negro business. He points to the dilemma which the Negro business man faces - on the one hand, the futility of adopting economic segregation, and on the other hand, the disconcerting difficulties and barriers to becoming fully integrated into the larger business world. However, the author is unequivocal in his stand regarding the role Negroes should take in the business life of the Nation. He advocates the abandonment of the "defensive philosophy of a segregated self-sufficient economy" in favour of full and complete integration into the business activities of the larger culture.

Last Updated July 2022