Chat with us, powered by LiveChat After reading about the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements, you should have a solid understanding of women’s and African Americans’ critiques of the | EssayAbode

After reading about the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation movements, you should have a solid understanding of women’s and African Americans’ critiques of the

After reading about the Civil Rights and Women's Liberation movements, you should have a solid understanding of women's and African Americans' critiques of the "American Dream" in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the context of the Cold War that helped launch both movements.

For this thread, I'd like you to choose either women's liberation OR African American's/Civil Rights groups and answer the following questions.  (And yes, I realize that this isn't a very intersectional approach, especially since women of color were often involved in both movements.  Gay, lesbian and queer folks were also usually rendered invisible in these critiques.  Feel free to address this in your posts if you'd like!)

But for now, choose one group and answer the following questions:

  •  Both women's libs groups AND civil rights groups protested the lack of economic, social and political equality that other (predominantly white, male) Americans had during the 1950s. What specific critiques did you find the most interesting, disturbing, important, etc.?  Why?
  • Like any social movement, people utilized a variety of approaches and strategies in combatting social inequality and exploitation.  What SPECIFIC techniques, criticisms, or tactics did you find interesting or successful (i.e., radical or liberal?)  Why?
  • What did you learn about the relationship between consumer culture/advertising/capitalism and your social movement? 
  • Conclude with a discussion question (or maybe ask your peers to help you rethink some of your ideas?) so that folks can reply thoughtfully to your post!

You should engage with a minimum of two texts in your response.  Your initial response should be thoughtful and engaged – this is a pivotal part of the class so please write a focused, clear and thoughtful response that engages directly with ideas/examples/arguments from the texts.

The "Not-Buying Power" of the Black Community: Urban Boycotts and Equal Employment Opportunity, 1960-1964 Author(s): Stacy Kinlock Sewell Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of African American History, Vol. 89, No. 2, African Americans and the Urban Landscape (Spring, 2004), pp. 135-151 Published by: Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 14/03/2013 19:24

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by Stacy Kinlock Sewell*

Protesters representing the NAACP shouted, "Don't stop, don't shop, till the flag drops" in 2002, as they publicized a multiyear tourism boycott against South Carolina. These

protesters demanded a modification of the state's flag, which bears the Confederate emblem. It is an ongoing protest, one of several economic boycotts launched recently by the NAACP. Other national boycotts, including a five-month action against the Adam's Mark Hotel chain, have been concluded, and a boycott against major television networks, which cast few African Americans in principal roles, was threatened but not initiated. Although they expressed concern for the African American-owned businesses in South Carolina, many newspaper editorials and columnists agreed that such boycotts were justified, necessary, and potentially very effective.1 It is significant to recall that boycotts as a civil rights strategy did not always meet with such widespread approbation. The NAACP itself looked askance at some of the boycotts launched in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to expand employment opportunities for African Americans. The public support for economic demands was a gamble for an organization that preferred a legal or political approach to civil rights. But urban and economic realities, combined with a new assertiveness among activists, gave prominence to this strategy, particularly in matters involving employment opportunities.

Boycotts have been one weapon long used by protesters seeking economic rights, and this strategy has been integral to 20th century civil rights protests in the urban North. Chicago, Detroit, and New York City all experienced consumer boycotts that aimed to win employment for African Americans, both before and after World War 11.2 These boycotts- far from receiving media approval-divided African American leaders and sparked competition among civil rights groups. Civil rights history has addressed rivalry in the movement, but it has been limited largely to the southern struggles or to individual personalities and leaders. Rivalry, furthermore, has been viewed as a sign of disintegration, not as a creative force. However, this emphasis does not fully consider the ways in which competition among activists and organizations transformed the strategies and shifted the goals of the movement itself.3

Stacy Kinlock Sewell is Assistant Professor of History at St. Thomas Aquinas College in Sparkill, NY.


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Boycotts in the 1960s reveal conflict among civil rights proponents because their actions began to command real potential in procuring jobs. The federal government and self-

proclaimed progressive business leaders had demonstrated a rhetorical eagerness, if not a real commitment, to equal employment opportunity that civil rights leaders hoped would lead to more substantive racial integration in the workplace. Urban protesters began to use what some considered to be militant tactics: results-oriented strategies that called for affirmative action and racial proportionalism. The effect of this division caused activists to

struggle with one another and against employers over the nature of quotas and goals, preferential treatment, and compensatory action. Indeed, remedies for employment discrimination can be seen, in part, as a product of this competition.4

In the early 1960s, activists were just beginning to develop a language of "affirmative action." That phrase, first used in an Executive Order by President John F. Kennedy in

1961, found currency among civil rights groups then engaged in street protests and

negotiations with employers.5 While the Kennedy administration declined to provide a

specific definition of affirmative action in theory or practice, militant ministers and activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) did. Affirmative action was needed as compensation for past discrimination; employers who refused to hire minority workers should give preference to nonwhite job seekers to remedy past discriminatory practices. Such a rationale gave their actions a radical cast that offended some liberal civil rights supporters. Thus the NAACP and the National Urban League, as well as some CORE

moderates, remained circumspect regarding the strategies pursued by some of their fellow activists. By the mid-1960s, however, such difference among civil rights groups appears to have been productive. The language of "affirmative action," though not yet widely used, would soon become common parlance, not only among supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, but also in government and corporate personnel operations.

This essay explores the contest that ensued between civil rights moderates and militants who sought jobs for African Americans. The locus of this contest was the consumer boycott, the weapon of choice for urban ministers' movements and CORE activists who demanded employers change their hiring practices. As the demands of street protesters, ministers, and moderates escalated and competitive relationships developed among these

groups, each believing it was more qualified to express the assumed singular needs of the

black community. That very competition, as well shall see, was vital to the movement.

An overt racial consciousness became an element in the demands for jobs. This aspect of protest, viewed as reckless militancy by some, also provided a means to gauge results.

The picket line that gathered outside of Brandt's Liquors on 145th Street in Harlem in the

summer of 1959 provides an example. Like the "Don't buy where you can't work" campaigns of the 1930s, this picket line aspired to open up jobs in a predominantly black

neighborhood. The protesters accused area retailers of restricting black liquor salesmen to

designated establishments. The activists reasoned that because white areas of the city were

reserved for white salesmen, Harlem should be the exclusive province of black salesmen. To

the national leaders of the NAACP, the underlying demand was abhorrent; it was

"segregation if anything is." Roy Wilkins deplored the boycotters' effort to secure "the

exclusive rights to territory on a racial basis." That this boycott had its inception within a

chapter of the NAACP is in itself remarkable, and points to the fact that the association

provided an institutional home for activists that was, perhaps, not altogether fitting and


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appropriate, but served as a launching pad for intensified direct action.6 The liquor store boycott reflected emergent tensions among activists, kindled by

frustrations and rising expectations.7 There was impatience about their mien. More and more activists asserted that the concept of "nondiscrimination' used by fair employment practice agencies in 1960 was confining, inadequate; "nondiscrimination" did not find jobs for the men and women in Harlem and other urban areas. At this time, frustration with the

variety of state fair-employment practice laws and agencies was at its peak. Some of the statutes were a product of extensive civil rights lobbying, as in Minnesota, and were

generally agreeable to African Americans and liberal groups. Other statutes were coopted and modified by chambers of commerce and employers' associations, as occurred in Illinois. There was a wide range in the statutes' degree of authority and enforcement ability. Some re-created the federal government's Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC), as did New York State, which established the State Commission Against Discrimination that could bring suit in state court. New York's statute was atypical, since most state and

municipal commissions had no enforcement powers. But even New York's Commission

Against Discrimination relied upon a complaint procedure, and was therefore reactive, not

proactive, as activists increasingly demanded.8 Protesters eschewed lengthy investigations by a state agency. Rather, they focused upon the broader landscape of employment opportunities where the effects of job discrimination could be readily observed. It is

important to note that their target was not discrimination per se. Most did not seek color- blind employment policies, but visible results: employment based upon race-not regardless of it.9

To be sure, color consciousness would be but one of several tactical divisions within this movement. Practitioners of nonviolent direct action, such as CORE, protested job discrimination in the streets, seeking to embarrass employers who hired few or no African Americans. Organizations with access to courts and corporate boardrooms, such as the NAACP and the National Urban League (NUL), politely interpreted these demands for

policy makers and executives. Activists sought the ear of the men who made daily hiring decisions, but that goal in itself generated tensions between groups. The division between moderates and militants hinged upon a set of questions: Should they draw upon antidiscrimination law and state power, or appeal to employers directly? How useful were

boycotts, disruption, and provocation, as used by southern civil rights protesters? And how much disruption was too much?

The more disruptive tactics forced a response from both civil rights moderates and business leaders. Indeed, moderates could capitalize upon the new militancy, as businessmen searched for responses to the new aggressiveness. A variety of employers-the owner of a local bakery, the manager of a bank branch, or the director of a Broadway play-quickly realized they did not want to be forced to negotiate with the "radicals." Companies sought to retain their control in matters of employment: But with whom did they want to bargain? What was up for negotiation? Must they deal with a disruptive CORE

chapter, or was there a more reasonable alternative? Under pressure from civil rights activists, businessmen began to address these questions. While corporate leaders did not

massively resist the demands placed upon them, they did feed the inter- and intragroup competition and, in so doing, markedly shaped the evolving debate over the meaning of preferential and compensatory employment.10


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Most urban manufacturers and employers were no more willing to employ African

Americans in the 1960s than they were in the 1930s. But in the 1960s they no longer had a

choice in the matter. A presumably new "Negro market" had emerged, according to

management, retail, and advertising literature.11 The yearly migration of thousands of

southerners to the urban North promised greater economic clout for African Americans.

Incomes of African Americans rose, though unevenly, throughout the 1950s, and this fact

would have social and cultural consequences. "If an employer has an unfair employment policy, and it's known to Negroes, he can advertise, he can promote, he can do anything he wants to, and he won't sell merchandise," commented the director of the newly created

ethnic markets division of a major advertiser. The Wall Street Journal noted in 1961 that

national advertisers now lavished attention upon black consumers. The Negro market, with an annual purchasing power of $20 billion, "almost equal to that of all Canada,"

expanded daily. The newspaper further noted that as the nation's largest single minority

group, the black population was growing at a rate 57 percent faster than the white

population.12 Indeed, something was amiss when businesses dependent upon African

Americans' dollars were without black employees. How did the existence of a Negro market influence African Americans' job demands?

Evidence of the buying power of African Americans proliferated, to the delight of black

leaders. The growth of communications media designed for a black audience, the swelled

circulation of Ebony and Jet magazines, and the multiplying number of radio stations that

appealed to black listeners all pointed to changing demographic and economic

circumstances for many African Americans. African Americans now populated visible,

specific pockets of the northern urban landscape. This process worked gradually to

concentrate African Americans' spending power. Black women and men could feel themselves a presence in Philadelphia, which was one-quarter black in 1960, or in

Newark, where African Americans comprised more than one-third of the city's population. Meanwhile, the jobs now held by black men and women-even in traditional employment

fields-paid much better than those they had left in the South.13 Advertisers and retailers readily discerned a new black consumer and noticed her

buying trends and preferences. Advertising consultants distinguished special traits: black

consumers showed a greater brand-name loyalty than whites, and they were particularly sensitive to quality because of retailers' propensity to dump shoddy merchandise in their

neighborhood stores. According to one marketing consultant, rumor-about whom to

patronize, whom to boycott-played a tremendous role in purchasing behavior among African Americans. The democratizing potential of consumer culture was not lost on one

market researcher, who concluded that the purchase of quality consumer items represented "one of the roads leading to what [the African American] regards as his rightful place in

society…. Spending money is a direct weapon for achieving Negro rights." It is unclear

whether the fact of the black consumer alone prompted executives to hire African

Americans, but there was a general sense that black employees could aid their companies in

"capitalizing on Negro markets."14 Postwar geographic expansion added another dimension to the preexisting ethnic and

class consumer variations. Suburbs and shopping centers were racially exclusive spaces;


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developers aimed to exclude certain racial and ethnic groups as residents and consumers.15 Suburban shoppers now had alternatives to urban stores, leaving the downtown shopping districts to city residents. Thus, while African Americans sought claim to full integration in the nation's economy, urban-to-suburban migration undermined that realization. In the short term, concentrated black spending power suggested black prosperity, yet the

geographically segregated market imposed limits on the struggle for economic equality. Although African Americans' earnings were relatively high in the 1950s, ominous signs of economic downturn existed after 1960. It was commonly understood that the slightest dip in overall employment rates had far graver repercussions for black workers.16

Discriminatory employers who hired African Americans last and fired them first were only a part of the problem. Other demons loomed and "blind market forces," usually in the guise of automation, threatened to make semi- and unskilled labor obsolete. Fears were cited by example, such as the Chicago radio plant that now required 2 men to do the work that until then had required 200. If automation was a substantial problem for the labor movement, it was a colossal one for black workers, who remained disproportionately concentrated in low-skilled jobs.17

Concerns about economic decline did not stem the movement for jobs, however, but rather they fed expectations for improved economic status. That the urban African American population became more concentrated geographically and economically were

preconditions for the new urban boycott movement of the 1960s. The African American market was evidence of the black presence on the economic landscape of the nation, and the urban boycotts for jobs would express and assert a newfound economic power.


Racial turmoil was decidedly bad for business, a fact recognized early by the Wall Street Journal.18 The Civil Rights Movement in the North and South began to reexamine

ways through which sanctions could fight discrimination, wisely appropriating the most drastic economic weapons used by labor unions. In Montgomery, Alabama, African Americans engaged this strategy when they stopped riding city buses in December 1955.

Sitting in at the Woolworth's lunch counter, too, could make a dent in the day's business. The lunch counter manager noted with resentment, thirty-eight years after the incident, that he lost $150,000 altogether. "Wound up I lost one-third my profits, one-third my salary." The boycotts' effect was immediate; business as usual was halted.19

As the Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter sit-ins began in February 1960, another movement converged in Philadelphia. The southern sit-ins inspired and informed the northern activists. The Rev. Leon Sullivan, a leader of the incipient movement, explained, "Some of us were picketing the five-and-ten to support the lunch counter sit-ins in the South, when we realized that the North and East had problems that were just as acute."20 When fifteen of Philadelphia's ministers met in March 1960, they focused on the

problem of job discrimination and chose to revitalize the simple message of an earlier

generation: "Don't buy where you can't work." Like the southern sit-ins, this northern movement involved much of the black community in organized boycott action. In the first months of 1960, an estimated 200,000 African Americans participated in this substantial hit on the pocketbook of local businesses. Sullivan informed Roy Wilkins that "something


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tremendous is happening in Philadelphia."21 Before arriving a decade earlier to become the pastor of Zion Baptist Church, in the

heart of North Philadelphia's African American community, Sullivan studied at Union

Theological Seminary in New York. He had been an assistant to Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., in his church and political campaigns. Like other members of Philadelphia's black ministry, Sullivan kept abreast of developments in employment opportunities for

young African Americans. His deep involvement in community organizing and civil rights activity motivated Sullivan to organize a Youth Employment Service at Zion Baptist and become involved in efforts to reduce juvenile crime in Philadelphia.22

Sullivan did not emerge immediately as the force behind the "Selective Patronage Campaign." In fact, Philadelphia's newspapers were hard-pressed to name the ringleaders- and that was exactly what the "400 Ministers" wanted. Sullivan himself admitted only to

being a "servant of the leaders." Two years after the first campaigns, the Philadelphia Tribune would note that its leadership, "has never been admitted, the top man could be the Reverend Leon Sullivan." The article continued, "Another possibility is T. E.

Harper…. Activities probably include the Reverend Joshua Licorish." Another newspaper called the leaderless selective patronage program the "best unorganized organized group in America. "23 Because the leaders went unnamed, any rift within the movement went undetected.

Organized though leaderless, it was the "colored preacher" who was key to the success of the selective patronage program; he "is free as no other is in such matters," wrote Sullivan. For a white minister "would be hard-put on a Sunday morning to tell his members not to buy a product when the manager of the boycotted business is not only a member of the

church, but also on his board of trustees." The ministers were able to conduct investigations and inquire about the number of minorities employed and in which jobs. Company managers usually gave this information willingly. They might as well; the 400 Ministers probably had a head count already.24

The selective patronage campaign was, in a way, exclusive; it was concerned with certain jobs. The ministers wanted African Americans in jobs with dignity and

responsibility, in what they called "sensitive" supervisory, clerical, and skilled posts. Their remarkable innovation was to negotiate specific numbers of hires. This was considered fundamental to the boycott's effectiveness. And to the ministers, it was the employer's

problem if he alleged he could find no "qualified" black workers.25 Thus, the Tasty Baking

Company managers' assertion that they employed hundreds of black workers-all in menial

occupations-fell on deaf ears. The ministers' request to Gulf Oil was that "Negro girls be

employed in the offices and Negro men be employed as oil truck drivers." An agreement with

Sun Oil outlined "25 Negro girls in clerical, three drivers and one salesman."26 For days, weeks, and even months, a quarter of Philadelphia's residents stopped

purchasing Sunoco Gas, Pepsi-Cola, Breyer's Ice Cream, or Tastykakes, while the ministers

persisted in negotiations with companies' management. The strategy worked one product, one company at a time. By the time of the great action against A & P food markets in January 1963, some twenty companies had been boycotted and agreements had been reached.27 On

the surface, the agreements secured jobs. But under the surface, the reign of the free market was under attack, the employers' prerogative about whom and how to hire, challenged. To be sure, the ministers' movement outraged employers, who used words like "force,"


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"intimidation," and "demands" to describe selective patronage. The ministers maintained that

they simply dealt in "persuasion"-convincing their parishioners to buy another brand, thus constituting what one observer titled the "not-buying power of Philadelphia's Negroes."28

Selective patronage illustrated that jobs could be secured-at more than 300 companies in Philadelphia-by virtually ignoring the city, state, and federal fair-employment agencies. It preached intraracial self-help and a result-oriented organizing model that matched the

quickening tempo of protest. Activists in the North and South would soon take note, and by late 1962, consumer boycotts were launched in a number of cities for the purpose of gaining nonwhite employment.29 Sullivan brought the idea to Atlanta earlier that year at the

request of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference

(SCLC) launched "Operation Breadbasket" and had many successes in Atlanta and in many northern cities where it helped to build SCLC's northern base. In Chicago, Operation Breadbasket, led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, achieved numerous impressive job gains by utilizing the nonviolent selective patronage techniques pioneered by Sullivan and the 400 Ministers in Philadelphia.30

Northern CORE chapters were also eager to utilize selective patronage's boycott techniques in the early 1960s. It was the perfect solution for CORE's northern activists,

many of whom wanted to apply direct action to employment and housing issues, but were "bewildered" as to how to go about doing so.31 Northern CORE chapters started to become active around employment discrimination in 1960, initially as a partner to the ministers'

groups in some cities, or the local NAACP or Urban League in others. But there was rivalry too, as CORE competed with NAACP activists Herbert Hill and Cecil Moore, who were active in New York and Philadelphia, respectively. Of the Philadelphia 400 Ministers, CORE field organizer Genevieve Hughes observed that it "operates about four times as

effectively as CORE could ever hope to."32 With that, CORE spearheaded equal employment boycotts in New York.


"I have been informed," Rev. Leon Sullivan wrote to NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins in July 1962, "that in New York a mammoth Selective Patronage Program is being organized." Indeed, the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn was then the site of a sweeping movement, comprised of ministers, their parishioners, and CORE activists, who had recently gained cooperation and hiring agreements from 150 merchants.33 Like the

Philadelphia protesters, Brooklyn activists targeted producers of repeat-purchase consumer items, such as bread and milk. Brooklyn's Sealtest Dairy was picketed in 1961; Ebinger's Bakery was the next target, during the early months of 1963. These boycotts displayed elements of the selective patronage style developed in Philadelphia. The actions, which received widespread publicity, also sought to gain specific numbers of hires in so- called sensitive positions with high visibility. Negotiators demanded jobs for nonwhite male drivers and salesgirls: "Nowadays at Ebinger's, when they know CORE is coming, they bake a cake and make sure a Negro or Puerto Rican girl is there to sell it." Bakery executives "crumbled like cake."34

The Ebinger's boycott in Brooklyn illustrates the typically gendered character of


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company negotiations with activists. Employment demands, seeking to transcend traditional job categories based on race, reaffirmed the division of labor based on sex. Thus sales and clerical jobs were negotiated for black women, while drivers, door-to-door sales, management, and skilled trade positions were reserved for black men. Research reports by CORE, entitled "Women in the Hotel Industry" and "Men in the Skilled Trades," are

suggestive of the traditional gendering of jobs, if not the traditional racial groups filling those positions. The slogans and placards of the movement further illustrate this pattern. Signs at a Philadelphia restaurant demonstration, for example, read, "No work for mother if she's the wrong color."35

Boycott negotiators in CORE and the ministers' groups did not press for jobs outside of the traditional gender categories. To the activists, it was inconceivable to seek a plumber's job for a woman. And although black males sought white-collar and some clerical jobs, no one suggested that they were racially excluded as stenographers. African American women and men considered normalization of their place in the economy and barrier-free

employment in sex-segregated terms. Robert Curvin of Newark CORE gave a revealing explanation when he said that the loc

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