by Michael Boston
In 1900 Booker T. Washington founded the National Negro Business League (NNBL), which was an organization designed to “stimulate” and “promote” business development among African Americans throughout the nation. As a national leader, Washington consistently received numerous requests to speak throughout the country. En route to many of his engagements, he had the rare opportunity to observe many African Americans single-handedly engaged in business ventures. According to Washington, “the number of successful business men and women of the Negro race that I was continually coming in contact with during my travels throughout the country was a source of surprise and pleasure to me. My observations in this regard led me . . . to believe that the time had come for bringing together the leading and most successful colored men and women in the country who were engaged in business.” Washington felt that if he could have these businesspersons meet and interact with one another, they would be further encouraged and inspire others in their respective communities to undertake entrepreneurial ventures. Moreover, during the winter of 1900, Washington, T. Thomas Fortune, the owner and editor of The New York Age, the leading African-American paper of the day, Emmett J. Scott, Washington’s official secretary, and other friends discussed strategies for bringing together African-American entrepreneurs and for promoting business development among African Americans.
These men agreed that a meeting should be held in Boston, Massachusetts on Thursday and Friday, August 23 and 24. They viewed these dates as a good time for a meeting because they were considered slack periods for businesspersons, as well as for Washington, who had a demanding executive role at Tuskegee Institute. Moreover, during the summer of 1900, steamship lines and railroads had reduced rates to Boston. To bring the meeting to fruition and promote business development, a list of business persons that resided throughout the country was compiled, and a circular was generated, inviting them to come to Boston for the first meeting. The requirement for actively participating was that an individual “be engaged in business.” Washington’s goal for the first meeting (and all ensuing ones) was to allow businesspersons to gain knowledge and encouragement from one another and motivate the delegates to establish local business leagues among African Americans in their respective communities. Being a practical man, Washington would take pride in this because he felt that African Americans actually engaged in business ventures and expressing their “ups and downs” was more helpful than theoretical advice. Expressing himself further concerning the intent of the first meeting, Washington wrote:
It is very important that every line of business that any Negro man or woman is engaged in be represented. This meeting will present a great opportunity for us to show the world what progress we have made in business lines since our freedom. This organization is not in opposition to any other now in existence but is expected to do a distinct work that no other organization, now in existence, can do as well.