Paramount among the factors affecting the development of black business enterprise has been the postindustrial restructuring of the U.S. economic system. Where once there existed meaningful neighborhoods in urban America, replete with family-owned and -operated grocery stores, service stations, supermarkets, retail outlets, drugstores, florist shops, and even bars and liquor stores, we now have shopping malls whose major retailers are chains of national corporations. This restructuring adversely affected all small-business entrepreneurs, for they found it impossible to compete profitably with the these gigantic corporate entities.
Black entrepreneurs also were forced to fight with a behemoth unique to themselves. If any black Miami entrepreneurs had been asked to choose one factor most responsible for the demise of the oncethriving Overtown black business community, he or she would tell you it was the construction of Interstate 95. Entire communities were destroyed and uprooted. Businesses closed, thus eliminating jobs, the tax base of the the central city evaporated, and urban blight set in.
Central to the development of all entrepreneurship is the availability of capital, in all its forms. During what Joel Kotkin calls the "golden age" of black enterprise, there were far more capital resources available to blacks than there are today. For example, in 1907 there were 12 black-owned and -operated banks in Mississippi. Today, there are none.
Black entrepreneurs are not suffering from a lack of "tradition." We are suffering from a lack of capital. It is caused by the reluctance of financial institutions to take the risks necessary to provide black American entrepreneurs with capital resources.
Did INC. "blame the victim" in its story about blacks and black businessmen in the September issue ("The Reluctant Entrepreneurs")? That was the charge from several readers, including the head of the NAACP and the publisher of the nation's largest black business magazine. Their letters are among those printed below, along with a brief reply from writer Joel Kotkin, who looks to the Asian and Cuban communities as models for other minority groups that have overcome poverty and prejudice.