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Black Progress Through Business Improvement: Two Articles by Joseph R. Houchins, 1900-1989


In the spirit of further expanding the heretofore unsung contributions of African American economists, we present two unpublished works from the 1930s of Joseph Roosevelt Houchins. They focus on Black business development and strategy. Biographical information and historical context for Houchins’s life experiences during the twentieth century are included in an introduction. Houchins was a member of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet, a leader of the Division of Negro Affairs in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a chair and professor of economics at Howard University. These two writings reflect a strategic effort to strengthen the efficiency and impact of Black business as an engine of Black progress. The first document presented here analyzes the high failure rate of Black-owned insurance companies, a mainstay of Black business especially in the 1920s and 30s. Houchins determined that their failure was due to several factors: lack of business knowledge; lack of access to capital; a tendency towards over-expenditure on office furnishings; and an over-identification with the clients, paying unjustified claims and failing to collect premiums on policies. The second document reports the results of a national survey that Houchins conducted to create a complete listing of Black chambers of commerce that could be used for intra-racial communication and mutual support. Both documents resonate today as the struggle for Black progress continues.

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Research assistance from Ms. Lacoya Theus in preparing this work is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Rodney D. Green.

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Green, R.D., Houchins, S.E. Black Progress Through Business Improvement: Two Articles by Joseph R. Houchins, 1900-1989. Rev Black Polit Econ 44, 393–401 (2017).

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  • African American economists
  • Black business strategy
  • Black chambers of commerce
  • insurance companies
  • Black cabinet