THE TRI-COUNTY CHAPTER OF THE
NATIONAL BUSINESS LEAGUE
- Everee Jimerson Clarke
The Tri-County Chapter of the National Business league was founded in 1969 and was a star chapter of the most prestigious National Business League founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington, twelve years before he assisted in forming the United States Chamber of Commerce.
The Tri-County Chapter of the National Business League was the first organization in Palm Beach County contracted by the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of Minority Business Enterprise. The program was funded to include seven counties with emphasis placed on lending, management, and technical assistance to and developing Minority Business in West Palm Beach.
Members of the Business League were encouraged to locate businesses on Northwood Road with thoughts of creating a new Black Business District comparable to Downtown Clematis Street. With the assistance and cooperation of some of the area’s White owners, feasibility and marketing studies were done to assist members of the League and their clients.
The program had great possibilities at that time because in the 1970’s, businesses along US#1 And Northwood Road had declined because motorist who had traveled through West Palm Beach going North or south on US#1 and Northwood Road had begun traveling on I-95 and the Florida Turnpike. A number of the white businesses had moved out of the area and there were no longer any major supermarkets or anchor businesses left. Several of the small stores had become Black storefront churches, which helped to keep Northwood Road alive.
Among the first were: James Feacher. JC Tire, and Recapping Company received the first SBA loan. He located his business at the corner of Northwood Road and Spruce Avenue, Willie Odom opened Willco Rugs and Carpets, Dr. James V. Carter opened his Chiropractic Office opposite the Post Office, Lazetta Gibson’s Design and Boutique, Calvin Hightower Real Estate Office, A Plumbing Co. and Record Company were part of the new business development.
The Pleasant City Economic Development Co., chartered in 1972, was an arm of the Tri-County Chapter National Business League. Located at 205 Datura Street Suite 315, West Palm Beach, Florida and was the first of the NBL’s efforts to mobilize Minorities in a self-help program for minority business development. This $400,000 SBA-supported project had as its objective the purchase of the May’s property on Northwood Road for Developing a supermarket and office complex.
The May’s family beset by illness, personal tragedy and loss through fire was forced to close the last of their three supermarkets in 1969. The Mays supermarkets had offered extensive and unique services to the Pleasant City area for many years. The chief goal of the Pleasant City Economic Development Corporation was to provide an opportunity through which black residents could gain identity as productive members of the business community.
Efforts were made to mobilize the black community resources, the churches, fraternal groups to encourage joint ventures among black firms. Outreach efforts were extensive. We had many workshops, seminars, and briefings featuring local and national leaders. Programs were developed to make black business more viable. We brought franchise opportunities that led to the establishment of Port Printing, a business co-owned by Ernest Garvey and Jose Studstill. We formed family corporations. We took business owners to our national conventions where they were able to reach national markets. Locksley Thompson’s Conch Fritters, Blue Front Bar-B-Que Sauce and many others.
Our monthly meeting drew business owners from Titusville, Melbourne, Cocoa, Okeechobee, Tampa, Sarasota, Delray, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and other areas. We brought forward and honored business owners whom most people didn’t know existed.
Despite all of the positive programs created to improve the quality of life in the black business community, there were barriers to our success. Organizations that we tried to develop a working relationship with, a network of politicians and business leaders with their own personal agendas rather than considering the benefits to the general community, destroyed the efforts at work to bring about positive change. I don’t know if we will ever get it right in this community. The mode seems to be if we didn’t start it, we must disrupt it for ours to be a success.
What happened to the Prudential Bank, Pleasant City Economic Development Corporation? It seems that groups promoting economic development, business ownership, the pooling of financial resources do not last long. I have been writing about this for over twenty years and nothing has changed. In money there is power. All your business have been taken out of your community, everybody is suffering. We must know our history to understand the world and the community in which we live and the circumstances that we must overcome.
We must learn to speak with one voice, to rise up in total unity regardless of political party and personal agendas to demand what is rightfully ours.
The accomplishment of the Tri-County Chapter of the National Business League, which I founded, existed from 1969-2000.
1. Created the South Florida Committee on Minority Affairs, a coalition of black professional, business, social, and civic organizations to provide a forum through which local and state issues were debated, evaluated, and reviewed.
2. Made recommendations that reflected a consensus of views to the appropriate local and state legislative leaders and agencies.
3. Created the first Minority Business Directory in the State.
4. Presented the first Mini-Expo and business opportunity seminar at Disney World bringing together the private sector, agencies, and government to assist minority business.
5. Presented the first Drug Abuse Seminar in the State.
6. Presented the first Women in Business Seminar
7. Created YIB Youth in Business for the Entrepreneurial development of youth. This group was invited by NASA to witness the first Russian and American Space Flight at Cape Canaveral. They met King Hussein of Jordan in West Palm Beach and the King hosted one of their members Darrick Spradley in a visit to Jordan.
8. Created the “Top Ten” Awards. This program introduced Black Business leaders around the state who were millionaires and role models for youth.