Skip to content

Beyond the Rhetoric


Yes, the 1980’s had it going on as far as Black business growth and development. Much of that was due to advocacy coming from our Congress in Washington D.C. Led by the great Parren J. Mitchell, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Black entrepreneurs received noticeable representation and empathy for their challenges and struggles. Allow me to pay tribute to the founding members of the CBC: Shirley Chisholm, Bill Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ron Dellums, Charles Diggs, Walter Fauntroy, Gus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, and Louis Stokes. They were soldiers! When it came to Black business they would take Parren’s lead and “kick butt and take names”.

It was during their tenures that most rules and regulations promoting diversity in government procurement would evolve and stimulate a vast amount of Black wealth, business growth and an infrastructure in each of our urban communities. Maybe all that success caused an over estimation of Black business progress. We had a good start but there was certainly nothing to rest our “laurels” on.

During the 1980’s the annual Congressional Black Caucus Week would evolve. Every September the CBC Foundation hosts a week- long event of meetings, social gatherings and, most of all, parties. Eventually it would amount to an “Electric Slide Festival’. Blacks from all over the nation come to DC for fun and cheer. In the beginning there would be very relevant workshops concerning the big issues of the day. Today, the important topics are “Where’s the party at?” Go to the D.C. Convention Center during the day and you will see a sparse group of people participating in the workshops. Come at night and you will find a bustling celebration that would match “Mardi Gras.”

Today, the CBC is a cheering section for the Democratic Party. The issues coming from their annual convention and throughout the whole year are not about Black business empowerment. Any aggressive legislation does not have the “footprint” of the CBC like it used to. More importantly, rules and regulations that are to the detriment of Black business gets introduced without a whimper let alone an objection from the CBC.

The great Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Program for the Department of Transportation was off to a fantastic start. It met disaster when Congress allowed white women into the program. They have poached it from double digit growth to a percentage level less than 2% for Black participation.

The fantastic 8a program has created more Black millionaires than all the other minority programs put together. Then in the mid-1990’s the “Alaska Native Corporation -ANC” program came into the 8a arena with more advantages favoring these ANC’s versus real minority businesses. Today, we have blond hair, blue eyed Whites perpetrating themselves as Alaskan natives. Many of them are multi-billion-dollar businesses getting set-aside contracts while the volume of Black owned 8a firms are being decimated. The ANC’s have no size standards (restrictions for small business), no graduation date (like our 8a’s), and enjoy the liberty of subcontracting their work to major firms who don’t qualify to be in the program.

Then comes the big “knock out blow”. There is no doubt that construction unions are discriminatory by nature. Their Davis-Bacon rules have racist pedigree. Their intent is to secure most construction projects and block any diversity in the contracting and workforce arenas. Union only projects are known as Project Labor Agreements. They are blatant “Jim Crow” in their practice. Oddly, the overwhelming number of CBC members support these Project Labor Agreements. I cannot reason this other than political contributions that construction unions donate to CBC members and old-guard civil rights organizations.

For the above reasons, we convinced President George W. Bush to ban PLA’s from sizeable federal contracts. To our shock, the first executive order from the desk of President Barack Obama was to reinstate the PLA’s. This former CBC member received over $600 million in donations from labor unions. It was a blatant sell out. As a result, Black construction participation at the federal level is disappearing and the CBC turns its head.

Times have changed. Black business must keep being increasingly organized and push its agenda. A dependence on the CBC may be a little naïve now. I see no Parren Mitchells, Gus Savages, Louis Stokess, etc. within the ranks of the CBC. That is not to say there won’t be anymore of that ilk. There is just a big shortage now. We need to find some good “warriors” and “send them” to D.C.

Harry C. Alford is co-Founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Website: Email: