The Boycott (1930)

The Boycott (1930)

Side by side with consumers’ cooperation, and of greater initial importance because it can so easily be put into force, stands the boycott as a weapon which American Negroes can use for their economic defense. Boycotting consists of concerted refusal to trade with a particular store or firm until it meets a group’s wishes in respect to treatment, conditions of work, personnel, prices, etc. In America, it has to be used with care and under careful legal advice because merchants and manufacturers have so hedged themselves about with laws that boycotters may find themselves open to prosecution for interfering with the firm’s profits!

Nevertheless, the method can be and has been widely used. The Consumers’ League has brought pitiless publicity to bear upon firms which mistreat and underpay their employees. And recently, in Chicago, the Chicago Whip, a paper owned and conducted by Negroes, has been carrying on a widespread campaign to compel firms catering to Negro trade in the Chicago black belt to hire Negro clerks.

This touches a matter of deep injustice to Negroes. Not only in Chicago, but in practically all large cities, like New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, not to mention all Southern towns and cities, the white storekeepers in the Negro districts monopolize the Negro retail trade, often neglect and even grossly mistreat and cheat their colored customers, and to cap the injustice, hire no colored help. Personal treatment of the colored customer in later years has greatly improved, but with few exceptions, the independent firms and particularly the chain stores, insist on putting white clerks and managers over their black belt stores.

This is a double injustice. First and foremost, it cuts down tremendously the opportunities for work among trained colored workers, and secondly, it establishes an impossible economic caste.

To combat this, there is one tremendous and most effective weapon. The colored people have a right, after ascertaining the facts, to agree among themselves not to trade with certain stores until they either get better treatment or until the stores hire colored clerks, or until other changes in policy are made. Sometimes, the attack should be directed toward the kind of goods sold in the black belt. It is common custom in New York, for instance, to dump old and spoiled goods in the colored district and sell them at high prices.

The success of the campaign carried on by the Chicago Whip has apparently been most encouraging. It began with a survey of the South side business concerns of all types which depend partially or solely upon colored people for support. This showed an easy possibility of openings for seven thousand colored employees in these establishments. After this, an investigator carefully counted the white and colored patrons of the different places in the course of the day for a period of time, until it was possible to determine the volume of colored business. A representative of the newspaper then approached the proprietor. He pointed out the trade that he was getting from colored people; the fact that neither he nor his clerks lived in the district; that they did not deposit their money in colored banks; that they did not patronize colored restaurants; or other colored enterprises. In other words, that they were content to take all and leave nothing.

The replies of the merchants were taken down and published by the Whip. The Whip then proceeded to get the aid of churches, clubs, organizations and prominent people, and held monthly meetings. The result of five months of this campaign was that over 400 people secured positions directly through the office of the Whip and some 600 indirectly. “The goal set by the Chicago Whip is five thousand positions before the spring of 1930!”

This is but the beginning. Public accommodations, like telephones and street cars, should be attacked. Meter readers for electric light and gas companies should be demanded. Large manufacturers should be confronted with the facts. All this propaganda must have back of it the organized determination of large numbers of colored people to withdraw their patronage from recalcitrant merchants, unless they yield.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1930. “The Boycott.” The Crisis. 37(3):102.