National Negro Business League: Fighting Jim Crow with Economic Development

National Negro Business League: Fighting Jim Crow with Economic Development


During the Progressive Era African-Americans were faced with severe forms of racism. Segregation in public places, lynching, being barred from the political process, limited healthcare, education and housing options left African-Americans disenfranchised from American Society.

African-American reformists developed various tactics to help fight against racism and discrimination that was present in United States' society.

Despite the presence of Jim Crow Era laws and politics, African-Americans attempted to reach prosperity by becoming educated and establishing businesses.

Men such as William Monroe Trotter and W.E.B. Du Bois believed that militant tactics such as using the media to expose racism and public protests. Others, such as Booker T. Washington, sought another approach. Washington believed in accommodation--that the way to end racism was through economic development; not through politics or civil unrest.

What is the National Negro Business League?

In 1900, Booker T. Washington established the National Negro Business League in Boston. The purpose of the organization was to “promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro.” Washington established the group because he believed that the key to ending racism in the United States was through economic development. He also believed that economic development would allow African-Americans to become upwardly mobile.

He believed that once African-Americans had achieved economic independence, they would be able to petition successfully for voting rights and an end to segregation.

In Washington's last address to the League, he said, “at the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion itself there must be for our race, as for all races an economic foundation, economic prosperity, economic independence.”


The League included African-American businessmen and businesswomen working in agriculture, craftsmanship, insurance; professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and educators. Middle-class men and women interested in establishing a business were also allowed to join.

The league established that National Negro Business Service to “help… the Negro business men of the country solve their merchandising and advertising problems.”

Prominent members of the National Negro Business League included C.C. Spaulding, John L. Webb, and Madam C.J. Walker, who famously interrupted the League's 1912 convention to promote her business.

What organizations were affiliated with the National Negro Business League?

Several African-American groups were associated with the National Negro Business League. Some of these organizations included the National Negro Bankers Association, the National Negro Press Association, the National Association of Negro Funeral Directors, the National Negro Bar Association, the National Association of Negro Insurance Men, the National Negro Retail Merchants' Association, the National Association of Negro Real Estate Dealers, and the National Negro Finance Corporation.

Benefactors of the National Negro Business League

Washington was known for his ability to develop financial and political connections between the African-American community and white businesses. Andrew Carnegie helped Washington establish the group and men such as Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., also played a pivotal role.

Also, the Association of National Advertisers and the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World built relationships with members of the organization.

Positive Outcomes of the National Business League

Washington's granddaughter, Margaret Clifford argued that he supported the ambitions of women through the National Negro Business League. Clifford said, "he started the National Negro Business League while he was in Tuskegee so people could learn how to start a business, make a business develop and go and prosper and make a profit."

The National Negro Business League Today

In 1966, the organization was renamed the National Business League. With its headquarters in Washington D.C., the group has memberships in 37 states. The National Business League lobbies for the rights and needs of African-American entrepreneurs to local, state and federal governments.