At the end of the 20th century, African Americans in Tulsa, OK founded and developed a business community in the Greenwood section of the city. This area was known as “Black Wall Street.” Because of segregation laws that prohibited Black residents from shopping in White neighborhoods. To keep money circulating in their own community, Black residents collectively poured their fiscal resources into Black-owned businesses.

This section of Tulsa became a robust and self-sustaining community, that boasted barber shops and salons, clothing stores, jewelers, restaurants, taverns and pool halls, movie houses and grocers, as well as offices for doctors, dentists, and lawyers. Of course, history records the destruction of Black Wall Street, known as the “Tulsa Massacre” in 1921 where what was once the nation’s wealthiest enclave of Black people became subjected to White terror in the form of firebombing, rioting, and murder. Destruction of Black Wall Street became a cautionary tale for black business districts throughout the nation. If we build it, will they destroy it? 

Today, the Urban League of Greater Madison is working to incubate and generate Black-owned business throughout Dane County with the opening of the Black Business Hub. One of the early occupants of the Black Business Hub was the Madison Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) lead by Camille Carter, who tells us that the Chamber “stands as a beacon of support, advocacy, and opportunity for Black entrepreneurs, professionals, and enterprises in the greater Madison area.”  The MBCC is a “vital resource, providing Black-owned businesses with the tools, resources, and networks necessary for their success.” According to 2017 American Community Survey data, “of 9,755 employers with more than one employee in Dane County, only 39 (.4%) are Black-owned businesses. Data also shows that working age non-Hispanic whites in Dane County were seven times more likely to own firms than their African American counterparts” (see, https://ulgm.org/black-business-hub-2/). These stark figures mean that MBCC has its work cut out for it and Carter is up to the task. This lack of Black businesses means that consumers and clients looking for goods and services that cater to the specific needs of the Black community are difficult to find. As a result, many of Dane County’s more than 25,000 Black residents find themselves looking to Milwaukee or Chicago for everything from clothing to hair care, to restaurant offerings and professional services. The Madison Black Chamber seeks to remedy that by building a thriving environment for Black businesses.

Evidence of Camille Carter’s hard work is the Annual Black Restaurant Week that showcases the diverse offerings of Black-owned restaurants and the MBCC Means Business Incubator and Optimizer Program. She points to the facilitation of “strategic partnerships between local enterprises” and “fostering collaboration and innovation.” The MBCC’s role is not merely to help incubate and support Black-owned businesses, it is also to help level the business playing field. Many successful Black-owned businesses cater to a diverse clientele that include the majority community. However, without promotion, support, and capital it is hard to get in front of that larger community. Often new Black residents to the Madison area are in search of realtors, physicians, attorneys, or other basic needs and do not know where to turn to find a Black-owned business. The MBCC is our area’s greatest resource for meeting those needs. 

Also, it is important to acknowledge that membership in the MBCC is not restricted to Black-owned businesses. Other predominately White businesses that seek to attract Black consumers and clients are welcome to join. The main point is that the Black community has access to the goods and services it seeks.  Carter says, “Businesses can affiliate with the Chamber through various membership options tailored to their needs. Whether they are a start-up looking for guidance, an established enterprises seeking to expand their network, or individuals passionate about supporting Black-owned businesses, there’s a place for connection within our community.” This means that community members and organizations are welcome to become members by participating in the events and initiatives of the MBCC. The Chamber wants to change the face of business in Dane County.  Camille Carter is about ensuring that reality and that is taking care of (Black) business!