The Case for African American Management History

African American Management History: Insights on Gaining a Cooperative Advantage

ISBN: 978-1-78756-662-0, eISBN: 978-1-78756-659-0

Publication date: 11 June 2019


Prieto, L.C. and Phipps, S.T.A. (2019), "The Case for African American Management History", African American Management History: Insights on Gaining a Cooperative Advantage, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 17-32.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © Emerald Publishing Limited, 2019.

A study conducted by Kollinger and Minniti (2006) found that African Americans were more likely to try starting a business than whites. It also found that blacks possessed above-average levels of confidence and optimism (as compared to other groups), which are associated with higher rates of early-stage entrepreneurship. However, what was troubling was that their results showed that African Americans are significantly less likely than white Americans to own an established business that survives in the market beyond the initial start-up process. Their findings suggested that black entrepreneurs are more likely to fail than whites in the early stages of the entrepreneurial process (Kollinger & Minniti, 2006).

Other studies also showed that African American entrepreneurs tend to have less success than their white counterparts (Fairlie, 1999; Robb, 2002). This may be due to the fact that black communities more frequently lack a framework to create successful entrepreneurial role models (Rhodes & Butler, 2004). The value of modeled behavior and exposure to positive images are a significant contributor to one’s success (Lindsay, 2011); and the lack of African American traditions in business knowledge hinders intergenerational transference in business ownership (Robb, 2002). This is one of the reasons why African American Management History needs to be integrated into the business curriculum at tertiary institutions, whether they are Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) or Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs), in order to provide examples of successful black business pioneers to motivate and increase the entrepreneurial knowledge and self-efficacy of students of color (Prieto, Phipps, Osiri, & LeCounte, 2017).

A current example is Harvard Business School (HBS). There is an MBA course offered by HBS and is taught by Professor Steven Rogers entitled “Black Business Leaders and Entrepreneurship.” In a Washington Post article, Professor Rogers stated:

we have a curriculum that is not inclusive. We’re like a doughnut with a big hole in the middle – the absence of black men and women who have had business success….the hidden figures who have been ignored. (Jan, 2017)

Professor Rogers also mentioned that

this is bigger than just the black students, our non-black students need to see black brilliance as well, to counter the narrative out there that the only things black people can do is to entertain and play sports. (Jan, 2017)

Cummings and Bridgman (2016) asserted that greater diversity of perspective can encourage greater innovation, and suggested that a limited, homogenous, monocultural, and “potted” view of the past may constrain perspectives of what we take management to be about in the present, and subsequently, could be limiting future development. Creativity and innovation play a crucial role in Entrepreneurship, and the inclusion of African American Management History in the business curriculum would create a necessary interface, or connection, that would expose another perspective, and enable black students to more clearly glean the intricacies of entrepreneurship, as they may better relate to the subjects (Prieto et al., 2017). This additional historical narrative would contribute to not only the entrepreneurial self-efficacy of students of color, but also their entrepreneurial knowledge, skills, and abilities, so that their critical and creative thought, as well as their confidence and optimism, can be strengthened by a more solid awareness and understanding of entrepreneurship in the African American context (Prieto et al., 2017).

In addition, a need for achievement is positively associated with academic achievement (Paunonen & Ashton, 2001; Tella, 2007), and both achievement need as well as academic achievement are linked to entrepreneurial potential and success (Collins, Hanges, & Locke, 2004; Robinson & Sexton, 1994; Winter, 2010; Zeffane, 2013). Allen (1992) found that African American students attending HBCUs were reported as having better relationships with professors, greater social involvement, higher occupational aspirations, and higher academic achievement than black students attending predominantly white colleges and universities. On predominantly white campuses, black students emphasize feelings of alienation, sensed hostility, racial discrimination, and lack of integration, whereas at HBCUs, African American students emphasize feelings of engagement, connection, acceptance, and extensive support and encouragement (Allen, 1992).

This means that black students respond to and are influenced by their environmental perceptions (Prieto et al., 2017). Allen (1992) asserted that they develop best in supportive environments where they feel valued, protected, accepted, and socially connected, and HBCUs better communicate to African American students that it is safe to take the risks associated with intellectual growth and development. At a PWI, a business curriculum that includes African traditions and philosophies (such as Ubuntu) and African American Management History would help facilitate connection, assist in promoting engagement, and play a role in bolstering a need for achievement as well as increasing academic achievement as students would not feel as alienated (Prieto et al., 2017). Instead, they would have more focus as they feel included due to a curriculum that recognizes the contributory value of their history, and uses it to enable learning. At an HBCU, the connection would be further strengthened, and engagement heightened, again resulting in higher achievement need and academic achievement (Prieto et al., 2017). In both types of institutions, black students would be inspired by the African traditions and philosophies, and the African American business pioneers of yesteryear and aim to be successful like them, and this motivation would serve them well academically and entrepreneurially (Prieto et al., 2017).

In the field of Management, there is a scarcity of research that focuses on the traditions and historical contributions of people of African descent. There is merit in drawing attention to the works of people of color in the field of Management in order to paint a more complete picture of the individuals whose contributions laid the foundation, and to demonstrate that these lessons can still be used in contemporary times (Prieto et al., 2017). What makes the contributions of the black business pioneers who are featured in this book important is their understanding of ways in which firms can utilize a more cooperative approach to achieve business success. The leadership of the early black business pioneers proved that African Americans utilized modern methods in managing their enterprises while embracing a traditional African communitarian approach that is still relevant today.

The integration of African American Management History into the curriculum will help build the connection to motivate engagement and learning, and communicate to black students that they too can be successful in building and managing an enterprise that survives and thrives in spite of the challenges faced by people of African descent (Prieto et al., 2017). In addition, coupling African American Management History with the utilization of critical pedagogy will allow these students to employ critical thinking and analysis as they reflect on business principles in general, and management and entrepreneurship practices in particular, and ultimately find ways to make a profit and make a difference in their communities while utilizing traditions of cooperation, just as historic African American business leaders (such as C. C. Spaulding) did in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Prieto et al., 2017).

It is important to note that the authors of this book are not advocating the incorporation of African American Management History in the business curriculum simply for the sake of integration, but because this content is important and deserves to be included. Black business pioneers like C. C. Spaulding were thought leaders. Spaulding’s Management and Entrepreneurship philosophies provided much needed advice to African American entrepreneurs and executives in the early twentieth century. In addition, although his writings are presently not very well known, many of them actually preceded renowned Management pioneers and gurus like Henri Fayol and Chester Barnard, and reflected principles we still endorse today in Management and Entrepreneurship (Prieto & Phipps, 2016). These principles are acknowledged as having helped shape entrepreneurship and management thought and practice, so Spaulding’s work should be included in the business curriculum at both HBCUs and PWIs, as students at these institutions can still learn from his insight, which is still relevant in contemporary times. Business students can benefit from his knowledge as they reflect on what attributes and resources they need to launch and successfully manage their businesses.

The Impact of Charles Clinton Spaulding

Charles Clinton Spaulding is recognized by the HBS as a great American business leader (Harvard Business School, n.d). This recognition by the world’s pre-eminent business school speaks volumes about the influence of this pioneering American businessperson. It is unfortunate that his accomplishments have largely been forgotten, but thankfully, mainstream management textbooks such as MGMT, by Chuck Williams, and Essentials of Management, by Andrew Dubrin, are now including the thought leadership of Spaulding in newer editions, and are thus playing a role in sharing his work with a new generation of university students who are not familiar with the contributions of this unsung business icon and countless other black business pioneers in the early twentieth century (Prieto et al., 2017).

The impact of C. C. Spaulding on the black community was profound in the 52 years he managed the North Carolina Mutual. During his time at the helm of the company, he had the reputation of being America’s leading black businessperson (Walker, 1998; Weare, 1973). He directed not only North Carolina Mutual, but also an extended family of financial institutions, including Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Bankers Fire Insurance Company, and Mutual Savings and Loan Association (Weare, 1973). He helped grow these companies and he did this by hiring a diverse staff of employees, including women and Caucasians (Prieto & Phipps, 2016).

Spaulding also positively impacted the city of Durham and the greater black community. This is demonstrated by the substantial funds he made available for various worthy causes such as the Lincoln Hospital, North Carolina Central Hospital, a library, and local churches (Kranz, 2004). In 1924, he established the National Negro Finance Corporation in Durham, NC, and its mission was to loan money to African Americans to start enterprises and strengthen businesses that were already in existence (Walker, 1998). According to Walker (1998), “by 1930, Spaulding, at the helm of the world’s largest black business, possessed the power and recognition that Booker T. Washington had enjoyed a generation earlier.”

What was also remarkable about Spaulding, other than his business acumen and philanthropy, was his willingness to share business advice to the masses. His articles provided entrepreneurship and management thought leadership to African Americans during a time when opportunities were not readily available to people of color during the Jim Crow period of the United States (Prieto et al., 2017). Spaulding never attended college; however, he became an unofficial business professor due to his writings, which were often featured in the leading black magazines and periodicals (Prieto et al., 2017).

When Spaulding passed away in 1952, his funeral was said to be the largest ever in Durham, and it was attended by approximately 3,000 individuals. E. J. Evans, the mayor of Durham, issued a proclamation and declared the day of Spaulding’s funeral to be a day of respect to the memory and works of the business leader (Ingham & Feldman, 1994). In 1980, Spaulding became the first African American to be inducted into the National Business Hall of Fame (Ingham & Feldman, 1994). The impact of Spaulding to the business landscape of the United States was momentous, and his contributions should be remembered (Prieto et al., 2017).

Critical Pedagogy

It can be used as a tool to incorporate African American Management History into the business curriculum. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and influential scholar in the area of critical pedagogy, inspired educators throughout the world. He influenced scholars and practitioners alike through many of his works such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and his theory of education (Prieto, Phipps, & Friedrich, 2012). The work of Freire has continually been associated with the themes of liberation and oppression, and his critical pedagogy is visionary in its attempt to bring about social transformation (Freire, 1993; Jackson, 2007).

Kincheloe (2008) describes critical pedagogy as a perspective toward education that is concerned with questions of justice, democracy, and ethical claims, and he discloses that his notion of critical pedagogy combines these concerns with an effort to produce the most mind expanding, life-changing education possible. One way to attempt to accomplish this feat is by somewhat deviating from the traditional, typical tutelage that dominates tertiary institutions as it often does not adapt to account for the diversity of students. According to Kincheloe (2008), in critical pedagogy, teachers must not only understand subject matter in a multidimensional and sophisticated manner, but must also be able, in diverse settings, to view such content from the vantage points of culturally and psychologically different students. In addition, students must be actively involved in the education process, as they have a key role to play. Kincheloe (2008) asserted that critical teachers maintain that students should study the world around them, in the process learning who they are, and what has shaped them. Students should also be offered an opportunity to have a voice in the educational process, to have the courage to be critical and questioning instead of passive and accepting, and to work toward social change (Breunig, 2005).

There is a fundamental problem in which the dominant culture actively functions to suppress the development of a critical historical consciousness among the populace (Giroux, 1997), and educational institutions are often no different. Schools act to perpetuate dominant ways of knowing (Breunig, 2005), since individuals are socialized and taught to view the dominant ideology as natural, commonsensical, and inviolable (McLaren, 2016). Integrating African American Management and Entrepreneurship History in the business curriculum at PWIs and HBCUs, and utilizing critical pedagogy to stimulate thinking, would allow students, especially black students, to view another perspective (cooperative) and not just the dominant (capitalistic) one (Prieto et al., 2017).

These students would be more informed as they would have the opportunity to learn more about who they are, and the circumstances that have influenced them as managers, entrepreneurs, and executives, as well as to question actions taken, and to make crucial decisions (business or otherwise) at the appropriate times that would positively change their lives, as well as lives in their community (Prieto et al., 2017). Hardy and Tolhurst (2014) stated that one of the reasons that the management education curriculum has been the subject of criticism is its Anglo-American ethnocentricity. Surely, if students should study the world around them, it should also be inclusive of their world (Prieto et al., 2017).

According to Reynolds (1999), critical management educators may want to ask which theoretical frameworks and perspectives are incorporated into the curriculum and which are left out. Presently, universities are not doing enough to prepare marginalized groups to challenge the status quo in the United States. Greenleaf (2002) pointed out that one of the flaws in the education system is that the current system does not prepare individuals for leadership and does not encourage the poor to improve the communities in which they were raised; rather, they are given goals to move into the areas of the upper class (Prieto et al., 2012). Students of African descent need to learn more about African traditions of cooperation, and the socially conscious, black business pioneers like Spaulding who succeeded in spite of great difficulties facing people of color, so that they can have more business models that inspire them.

Critical pedagogy can be utilized to prepare African American students to tap into their potential and find ways to create successful businesses and reduce unemployment and social ills in black communities (Prieto et al., 2017). Consistent with a Freirian vision of education, universities need to embrace forms of teaching and learning that promote increased awareness and understanding of the ways in which social forces act on people’s lives to produce and reproduce inequalities (Rhoads, 2009). If this is done, black students would be better equipped and stand a better chance to solve problems and make a difference (Prieto et al., 2017).

University education needs to move beyond normalized conceptions of knowledge and truth and include counter and oppositional narratives in order for students to develop the kinds of critical questions necessary for confronting complex social and global realities (Rhoads, 2009). Likewise, universities need to play a role in preparing people of color to become managers and entrepreneurs who can make a positive difference in their communities. This can be done by creating an interface that uses traditional African systems of cooperation, the philosophies of Spaulding and other writings from African American Management and Entrepreneurship History, as well as utilizing critical pedagogy, so that black students can more effectively learn to achieve business success (Prieto et al., 2017).

A conceptual model is provided below, demonstrating how the business curriculum can serve as an interface, which includes critical pedagogy, traditional African systems of cooperation, Spaulding’s core Management and Entrepreneurship principles, and philosophies from other African American managers, entrepreneurs, and executives in history, to reach black students at PWIs and HBCUs and positively influence entrepreneurial outcomes for them. This more inclusive business curriculum would be a beneficial interface as it would enable a stronger connection to black students, enabling them to learn about and critically reflect on some relevant practices of individuals to whom they can better relate (Prieto et al., 2017). This interface would not only be educational, but also motivational, inspiring black students to engage in entrepreneurial behavior that reflects what they have learned in the curriculum, which would lead to a more positive reputation, greater community support, and higher levels of entrepreneurial success (Prieto et al., 2017) (Fig. 1).

Fig 1. 
Curriculum Interface Connecting Black Students to Entrepreneurial Success.

Fig 1.

Curriculum Interface Connecting Black Students to Entrepreneurial Success.


Critical pedagogy supports more comprehensive, analytical reflection, as well as transformative action. These elements are useful in business in general, and management and entrepreneurship in particular, because such domains require sound and often creative decision-making and problem-solving that would lead to positive organizational and societal outcomes (Prieto et al., 2017). However, despite the benefits of critical pedagogy, the latter does have its criticisms. Ellsworth (1989) castigated critical pedagogy for definitions which operate at a high level of abstraction, and alluded that it results in some diversities being silenced in the name of “liberatory” pedagogy, noting that some individuals find it difficult to have a united voice with other marginalized individuals when it means the relegation or demotion of their particular repression.

For example, international students (both white and those of color) found it difficult to join voices with United States students of color when it meant a subordination of their oppressions as people living under US imperialist policies and as students for whom English was a second language; Asian American women found it difficult to join voices with other students of color when it meant subordinating their specific oppressions as Asian Americans; and women found it difficult to prioritize expressions of racial privilege and oppression when such prioritizing threatened to perpetuate their gender oppression (Ellsworth, 1989). As a human being, it is only natural to have multiple identities that reflect gender, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and a number of other characterizations, and on some occasions, one may find the need to prioritize which identity takes precedence depending on the context or situation. Thus, there may be some passionate debate over the fairness of the criticism of critical pedagogy aiding in the silencing of diversities. However, the construct can benefit from further research conducted to make it less abstract in nature. The development or refinement of a more detailed theory as well as the delineation of specific classroom practices are recommended (Prieto et al., 2017).

As regards the integration of African American Management History in the business curriculum, additional research is needed to unearth more black entrepreneurs, managers, executives, and management thought leaders. Their philosophies and theories, although lost in history, do exist, and must be brought to the forefront. Christian (1987) asserted that the literature of people who are not in power has always been in danger of extinction or cooptation, not because they do not theorize, but because what they can even imagine, far less who they can reach, is constantly limited by societal structures. African American Management Thought leadership should not be ignored because it is not dominant according to societal structures, which include educational institutions. Instead, it should be incorporated into the curriculum at PWIs and HBCUs so that it can reach students, especially black students (Prieto et al., 2017).

These writings may more effectively communicate concepts, considerations, and strategies that should be taken into account when blacks are building and managing a successful business that is likely to survive, as there may be subtle and not so subtle differences pertaining to black entrepreneurship. For example, Meyer (1990) examined several differences including low assets, liquidity constraints, discrimination in lending, and consumer discrimination. Exposure to successful black entrepreneurial and managerial figures, as well as their philosophies, traditions, and tactics would enlighten students about ways to navigate challenges specific to them (Prieto et al., 2017). If they have more examples of successful black entrepreneurs and managers, as well as management thought leaders from both early and more recent history, they can benefit from more entrepreneurial role models and learn vicariously through them. This would help bridge the gap in entrepreneurial success between blacks and whites. Also, further inquiry into reasons for black entrepreneurial failure is needed so that other roots of the problem can be addressed (Prieto et al., 2017).

Finally, it should be noted that the inclusion of African American Management and Entrepreneurship history would not benefit black students only. All students benefit from learning about others, and can use this knowledge before and after graduation, as they build and maintain relationships with diverse individuals and groups, and make better decisions as managers and entrepreneurs who strive to positively influence their organizations, communities, and society at large. Gurin, Nagda, and Lopez (2004) found that diversity experiences (e.g., interaction with diverse students) through curricular and co-curricular activities in higher education positively impact democratic citizenship, enabling students to better participate in a heterogeneous and complex society. Diversity experiences, including participation in multicultural programs, should not only be minimized to engagement in activities with diverse others only, but should also extend to diversity of content studied within the curriculum. In this way, all students would be more aware of organizational and societal complexities, and would better learn the skills needed to be successful and make a difference (Prieto et al., 2017).

Something must be done to address the high failure rates of black businesses, and Cummings and Bridgman’s (2016) call for greater diversity in management education and the rethinking of how management history is relayed holds much merit as one means of addressing the problem. Creating an interface that integrates traditional African systems of cooperation and African American Management History into the curriculum at HBCUs and PWIs can play a role in increasing the entrepreneurial knowledge, self-efficacy, and motivation of the students if critical pedagogy is also employed (Prieto et al., 2017). Students can benefit from learning about the principles and practices of successful black business pioneers who saw the problems facing the black community and decided to focus on turning them into opportunities to make a profit and a positive difference, despite the seemingly unsurmountable challenges faced (Prieto et al., 2017). The philosophies and practices of early business pioneers of African descent are still relevant today, and the merits of critical pedagogy warrant its application to facilitate student empowerment through a more comprehensive and diverse learning experience that enables them to engage in creative and critical thinking as well as analytical reflection that promotes problem-solving, innovation, entrepreneurial success, as well as positive social transformation (Prieto et al., 2017). Black students can benefit from learning how to gain a cooperative advantage just like the pioneers of yesteryear due to their people-centric approach to engendering spirituality, consensus-building, and dialogue for the benefit of their employees, customers and community.

Chapter 2 will examine the contributions of John Merrick and Alonzo Herndon, two pioneering black business pioneers who served as servant leaders in the black community.