Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce
Register and Researchers' Guide
The Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce (DNCC) began as a result of a split over Negro economic progress within the ranks of the Dallas chapter of Booker T. Washinton's National Negro Business League (NNBL). The split culminated in 1926 with the granting of a state charter. The Chamber was determined to represent more actively the interests of local black people.
The NNBL grew out of Booker T. Washington's interest in any project which would stimulate Negro enterprise. He envisioned the NNBL as an organization composed of successful black entrepeneurs as a means for exchanging ideas. The national organization's work would be supplemented by local organizations in four areas. These local NNBL chapters would be concerned with the further employment of blacks, consumer protection, fostering an interest in civic welfare and creating a sense of racial pride. The League held its first formal convention in August of 1900 in Boston with over 400 black businessmen in attendance. Booker T. Washington served as the League's president until 1915.
By 1926 the NNBL was drawing, even from its most ardent supporters, criticism for its lack of any directed programs. Critics pointed out that the League's annual meetings were nothing more than "mutual admiration societies." Criticism was not limited to the national level, but extended down to the local chapters.
Within the Dallas chapter of the NNBL, a small group believed that only a new organization would be able to solve the problems of the local black businessman. In November 1926 the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce, with a membership of 100, under the direction of W. E. Clark, opened an office at 2315 Hall St. For the first few years the DNCC experienced fluctuation in membership. Lack of strong leadership within the organization, along with poor finances and the overall effects of the Depression, hindered the DNCC. Reorganization under the guidance of A. Maceo Smith became necessary in 1932.
Born and raised in Texarkana, Texas, A. Maceo Smith graduated in 1924 from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Following his graduation Smith moved to New York City where he enrolled at New York University, graduating in 1928 with a degree in Business Administration. Prior to his arrival in Dallas in 1932, Smith was instrumental in organizing the Texarkana Negro Business League and revitalizing the Oklahoma City Negro Business League. Based on his reputation, Smith was asked to take on the task of revitalizing and reorganizing the DNCC. He served from 1933 to 1939 as the Chamber's executive secretary.
The first steps in the reorganization were to create a sound financial basis and a full-time paid executive staff. The plan also involved the establishment of a permanent program of activities concerned with Negro political activity and economic conditions. The Chamber became more involved with helping the small black businessman. Businesses aided by the Chamber's work can best be described as "Mom and Pop" operations; grocery stores, taverns, barber shops, beauty shops, restaurants, gasoline service stations, small retail shops, and funeral homes. The majority of these businesses were under-capitalized and had a life expectancy of less than ten years. Very few employed anyone outside of the immediate owners. The Chamber provided advice and assistance to these small businesses in order to make them more viable entities. Through various campaigns an attempt was made to make people aware of the importance of patronizing Negro-owned establishments. Money spent would stay in the community and as a result would hopefully provide more job opportunities for the community.
Assistance was not limited, however, to businesses. The Chamber served as a clearinghouse for smaller, more specialized black interest groups, such as the Negro Plumbers Association, Negro Movie Operators Union, Negro Golf Association, and a host of others. Working closely with these various groups, the DNCC coordinated the development of projects designed to increase Negro employment opportunities in Dallas, to gain better schools, and improve housing.
The development of the Negro Plumbers Association provides an excellent example of the Chamber at work. Prior to 1945 there was only one licensed black plumber in Dallas, although there were many more employed in the plumbing trade. Many of these men had worked in the plumbing trade for a number of years and had tried to pass the licensing exam, only to fail because they could not pass the theoretical portion of the test. With a Negro population of over 60,000, the DNCC saw an opportunity for an increase in jobs. In 1945 the Chamber helped to organize the Negro Plumbers Association. Its primary purpose would be to provide instruction to those journeymen plumbers who wished to become licensed. The DNCC conducted a nationwide search for a licensed plumber who would be willing to relocate to Dallas to teach these classes. The activities of the DNCC were not limited, however, to just economic conditions. Since the reorganization, tthe Chamber, under Smith's leadership, became more concerned with the political life of the black community. Their first step in this direction came with the announcement in 1934 that the city of Dallas would be the site of the Texas Centennial Exposition. Smith and the DNCC saw this exposition as an opportunity for the black community to showcase the accomplishments of black Texans. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Smith and the DNCC to acquire state funding for the construction of a Negro exhibit. This setback did not deter the Chamber in their quest. The federal government had appropriated monies to construct several federal exhibition halls for the Exposition. The Chamber applied for some of these funds for their exhibition and received $100,000 in federal funds for the construction and staffing of the Hall of Negro Life for the Centennial Exposition. An excellent book written shortly after the close of the Exposition, by Jesse O. Thomas entitled Negro Participation in the Texas Centennial Exposition, was published in 1938.
The political activities of the Chamber did not stop with the Centennial Exposition. In 1937 black voters represented one-sixth of Dallas' registered voters. A vigorous and successful campaign by the Chamber to have as many blacks as possible pay the poll tax created an increase in registered voters. Registered blacks now represented a large percentage of the voting population. The black vote was actively courted by city council candidates during this off-year election. The Chamber and other groups saw an opportunity for advancing black causes. The Chamber and the others drew up a 5 Point Plan which each candidate would have to support in exchange for endorsement from black organizations. The Plan called for more black police, a public housing program, a recreational center run by blacks, a new high school and an increased prominence in city government. The black vote during the election helped elect five out of the nine council positions.
Segregation became the main problem for the Chamber. Working closely with city officials and civic leaders towards integration and the betterment of the black position within the city, the Chamber has made strides in advancing black standards and quality of life. The Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce changed its name to the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce in 1976. The organization is still dedicated to promoting black economic and political interests.
The records of the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce consist primarily of the correspondence of its executive secretaries. Also included with these records is material associated with other Black organizations. Some financial reports, committee reports and agendas for the Chamber are contained within the collection.
Detailed Description of the Collection