Tag Archives: PUSH Expo

Operation Breadbasket, the seed of PUSH

Harry Belafonte at Operation Breadbasket, Chicago 1968

I have dedicated a number of posts here at Darkjive to the PUSH Expo, a 1970s exercise in Black Economic Empowerment (or Black Power as it was then known). The PUSH Expo phenomenon was borne from the seed of Operation Breadbasket (a department of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference), but the roots took twisted turns.

The term “Civil Rights Movement” often brings to mind images of the deep south, but Chicago was a key battleground in those days. Not just because of the influx of new Black citizens that the Great Migration delivered, but because of the ongoing struggles for housing equality and empowerment exacerbated by said influx.

Jesse Jackson, whose ties to Dr. King traced back to the Campaign at Selma in 1965, was selected by King to head Operation Breadbasket’s Chicago Branch.  True to its name, the organization distributed nourishment to the communtity, but it also played a more proactive role to fighting for social justice. 

Tactics such as boycotts were implemented, but according to Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), a seamier aspect including cronyism and strong-arming businesses to donate money to Operation Breadbasket were folded into the tactics, as well.

Eventually, leadership rifts came to a head, and in December 1971, Jackson fell out with Ralph Abernathy, King’s successor as head of the national SCLC. Jackson and his allies broke off and formed Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity).

Various sources tell me that this was a pivotal moment in Chicago History because a giant, organized black party (the largest in Chicago at the time) broke off into factions and never regained the traction it had built before that point.  Then crack hit the community like the atomic bomb (and the fallout is still being felt).  I argue that the hindsighted strength of the PUSH Expo-era was built on momentum created in the years that had preceded it, in conjunction with the genius of marketing with a major motion picture (!) and tons of press.   Documentation equals existence itself, and media has the power to romanticize just about anything.

In the end, please leave me the romance.  Let me believe that we were SO close to breaking free.  It gives me a fairy tale to build tomorrow upon.


Portraits of Black Chicago: The Beat Goes On

black_bongo_playerBlack bongo player performs at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the annual PUSH [People United to Save Humanity] ‘Black Expo’ in the fall of 1973. October 1973

Chicago’s PUSH Black Expo was a powerful tour de force for Black Businesses nationwide at the time this photo was shot.  Time magazine stated in a 1971 article: When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America’s fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace. Wow.   There was even a major motion picture shot to document one year’s occurrence, entitled “Save the Children” (after that year’s theme).  So what happened?

Almost exactly twenty years after the above photo was shot, the following was published in the Chicago Reporter:

Black Expo: Taking Care of Business?

(originally published in the Chicago Reporter in September 1993)

When about 250,000 people, most of them African Americans, turned out for this year’s Chicago Black Expo, many were offered fried chicken and menthol cigarettes…

(click the link below for original footage of Marvin Gaye at the PUSH Expo)

marvin gaye live at the expo after the jump


We the People (Who are Darker than Blue)

Curtis Mayfield performing “We the People” and “Gimme Your Love”, plus archival tape of folks vibin’ in various Chicago parks back-in-the-day.  From the classic film “Save the Children” (1972).  The film chronicled PUSH Expo ’72 (at the International Amphitheatre** in Chicago), touted as the biggest gathering of black business in history.  When black power was green!

from TIME magazine:

Black Expo in Chicago

Monday October, 11, 1971

“Black Expo in Chicago Black Expo was billed as the largest gathering of black businessmen in history. When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America’s fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace.

the Rev. Jesse Jackson, black businessmen from 40 states gave their backing to Jackson’s assertion that economic development —”green power”—is the way to black power. Self-sufficiency, Jackson said during the opening-day ceremonies, is the first step in breaking out of the ghetto. Said Jackson: “We do not want a welfare state. We have potential. We can produce. We can feed ourselves.” Despite the enthusiastic speeches, however, black capitalism is still in an initial stage of development. Aware of that, Jackson proposed a “domestic Marshall Plan” to help black neighborhoods develop their economic potential….”

**the Ampitheatre was also where the Democratic National Convention took place (in 1968) as well as countless concerts.
 


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