What has happened to the Black Business Community of Metropolitan Monroe? Is it in decline? What is the impact on our community as a whole?
What is the cause?
After the Civil War locally, the black community assumed a three-headed approach to arising from the impacts of slavery: Education, land ownership and business opportunities. Our schools, churches and community generally followed the idea that blacks must get an education that prepared them for an independent life, with land and resources as the key to our strength.
To many it meant acquiring a tradesman’s education. The idea was to get as much education as possible so that an individual could maintain himself without dependence on an employer.
With help from the Freedman’s Bureau local blacks built schools, and learned trades that would prepare them to own businesses. Young scholars were sent away to return and teach others and slowly the local black community developed a thriving business community.
By the 1940’s there were over a dozen doctors, ten lawyers, and a business community that included hotels, motels, restaurants, a movie theater, insurance companies, a casket factory, tailors, and a plethora of retail outlets.
In the process, the families of former slaves bought land at every opportunity and held on to it with a vengeance.
To help, Grambling and Southern University, took every student that wanted to climb up and gave them a chance. Hardly anyone was turned down, but each returned with an ownership mentality and community spirit.
Leaders who returned from Tuskegee Institute set up a vocational school in Monroe behind Carroll High School to teach tradesmanship and professional services. The trades included auto repair, bodywork, business services, Licensed Practical Nursing and other career and business-oriented efforts.
That resulted in scores of black mechanics, carpenters, electricians and others who set up businesses all over Monroe and LPN’s who went into business for themselves.
Today, the purpose of education is not tradesmanship, but learning a trade to acquire an entry-level job.
The tools needed for entrepreneurship, ownership of land, and the accumulation of wealth are not emphasized; getting a job is the emphasis.
Without that training, and importantly, that mindset, we are now producing a generation that is focused on preparing to get a job with a company, rather than owning a company.
As the older generation dies out, their children and grandchildren sell the land, close the businesses and shops and place themselves at the mercy of an employer. The school system promotes the idea that everyone is not cut out for college and is turning out scores of graduates each year with academically “worthless” diplomas that can only get them an entry-level job.
A drive down DeSiard Street from 6th Street to 14th Street tells the story. Abandoned buildings and empty lots now sit in places once occupied by a densely populated business community.
Today, the hotels, service stations, grocery stores, auto repair shops we once owned are no more.
It’s sad to say, but our children are being taught to “get a low paying job” be satisfied and leave the big stuff to us.
It’s even sadder because African-Americans now control most of the purse strings in the City of Monroe and Monroe City Schools and we have allowed our community to denigrate to this point without an effort to help.
Our decline is obvious, but those who lead us must pick up the mantel and resume the fight for an independent community that does not survive on government handouts or entry level “survival” jobs.
We are in control, there is no one to blame, but ourselves.