The Black community in 2004 had its share of highs and lows as it struggled against relentless economic and social pressures to enhance its presence in, and contributions, to American society.
Barack Obama, 43, made a forceful and impressive national debut at the Democratic Convention and subsequently won his bid to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate. Obama becomes the third Black senator since Reconstruction. The voice of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the highest-ranking Blacks in the Bush administration and a cautionary voice on the administration’s Iraq campaign, was noticeably absent during the presidential campaign. At press time, Powell had resigned his post, to be replaced by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
Aylwin Lewis was appointed president and CEO of Kmart Corp. and Clarence Otis was named CEO of Darden Restaurants. They join an elite group of Black CEOs at Fortune 500 companies that includes Kenneth Chenault of American Express, E. Stanley O’Neal of Merrill Lynch, Franklin D. Raines of Fannie Mae and Richard Parsons of Time Warner.
Women on Wall Street
Evidence that African-American women are gaining ground on Wall Street was seen at the first Black Women’s Economic Summit, hosted by Merrill Lynch and the Executive Leadership Council. Two hundred and fifty women at various levels of management participated in the summit, addressing the obstacles they face professionally, such as negative race-based stereotypes, perceived lack of fit in the workplace, outsider status based on race and gender, and exclusion from informal networks. More complete data about the experiences of African-American women in corporate America are available in Catalyst’s landmark 2004 report, “Advancing African Americans in the Workplace: What Managers Need to Know.”
The latest “Minorities in Business Report” from the U.S. Small Business Administration put Black-owned companies at 4 percent of all American businesses and at 27.1 percent of all minority-owned businesses. These businesses generated 4,514,699 jobs. Procurement opportunities and access to financing remained the biggest challenges for Black companies.
The overall picture of Black health grew more troubling. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control found that Blacks are the least physically active group among Americans, with 46 percent of men and 57.1 percent of women sedentary; 68.3 percent of Black women overweight and 38.2 percent obese; and 58.4 percent of Black men overweight and 21.3 percent obese. Ailments related to lack of exercise and obesity, including hypertension and diabetes, are skyrocketing in the Black community, while lack of access to quality and timely health care is blamed for high death rates among Blacks for cancer.
Black media lost some of its strength when New York-based WLIB-AM, the sister radio station to WBLS-FM, leased its daytime programming to Air America, a liberal counter to right-wing radio. Percy E. Sutton, chairman of Inner City Broadcasting Corp., which owns WLIB and WBLS, told TNJ that the arrangement with Air America was made “in order to pay bills that have been accumulating for more than 30 years.” WLIB’s programming catered primarily to Caribbean-Americans.
At the same time, Black media reached another milestone when Radio One Inc. acquired New Mableton Broadcasting Corp. for $35 million. New Mableton owns WAMJ-FM in Atlanta. Radio One is the nation’s seventh-largest radio broadcasting company and the largest company that primarily targets African-American and urban listeners. It owns 69 radio stations located in 22 urban markets and reaches some 13 million listeners every week.
On May 17, school systems across the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended federally sanctioned racial segregation in public schools. The groundbreaking decision, argued by a team of lawyers led by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, challenged the constitutionality of the Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) ruling that supported separate but equal facilities for Blacks. During the early stages of the civil rights movement, the ruling set the stage for the integration of public schools.
In addition to celebrities Ray Charles, Rick James and Isabel Sanford, we mourned the loss of Robert S. Browne, economist, philanthropist, foreign aid advisor, anti-Vietnam war activist, professor, writer and founder of three Black self-help organizations. Browne died of heart failure at 79. Through his writing, activism and speeches, Browne helped shape the discourse on Black America in the 1960s and ’70s, as well as on the United States’s involvement in the Vietnam War.