Editorial: Massive Chamber Fail
When it comes to racial diversity and inclusion, practice what you preach! That goes for individuals, organizations, agencies, businesses, etc.
We want the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce to especially heed that advice. With its 2013 Community and Economic Report, the Chamber strived to give a snapshot of what the city looks like today, while highlighting business milestones in Winston-Salem over the last 100 years. (Winston-Salem is celebrating its centennial this year.) Instead, the report is incomplete, giving the impression that African Americans did nothing to contribute to the city’s business success – nada, zilch!
Much of the report is pretty standard, with information about demographics, a listing of the city’s top employers, etc., not much different from Chamber reports released in past years. The report’s 100-year business highlights timeline, which runs across all but one of the report’s 21-pages, sets it apart.
While the timeline mentions such seemingly irrelevant tidbits as the opening of the Robert E. Lee Hotel (1921) and George Bush and Michael Dukakis debating at Wake Forest (1988), there is not a mention of the Safe Bus Company, the Goler Deport business district or anything else related to the city’s strong black business history.
We had to double and then triple check to make sure we were not missing something. How can a timeline of the city’s business past exclude Safe Bus, which at its height was the largest and most successful black-owned transportation company in the world? It’s unfathomable!
How can it include the founding of WSJS and not mention WAAA? The establishment of Security Life & Trust (GMAC) is mentioned, but not a thing about Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company. There is an entry for the origins of NASCAR racing at Bowman Gray Stadium, but nothing about the establishment of the National Black Theatre Festival or N.C. Black Repertory Co., both of which, we argue, have done more to put Winston-Salem on the map than drag racing. The timeline mentions the opening of the Stevens Center, but has nothing about the launch of Delta Fine Arts, which is historic because never before had a group of black Southern women come together to found an arts gallery/organization. There is also no mention of George Black, the legendary brick mason whose bricks, ironically, constructed many of the businesses touted in the Chamber report.
In an email to Chronicle Publisher Ernie Pitt, Chamber President Gayle Anderson defended the report by citing the timeline’s single mention of a African-American related event – the 1960 downtown lunch-counter sit-in. But even that one line doesn’t mention the black man – Carl Matthews – behind the movement and states that the sit-in centered around a Woolworth store, when, in fact, Matthews took his historic seat at S.H. Kress. Anderson maintains the report shows the diversity of the community. We say that’s hogwash! Besides being slighted on the timeline, readers need a microscope to find a black face in the report.
Don’t believe us? Look for yourselves: www.winstonsalem.com/files/ChamberReport2013.pdf
Anderson’s insistence that the Chamber is pro-diversity and inclusive takes us back to our original point. Talking diversity and inclusion sounds nice, but backing up the words when there is an opportunity to do so is what matters.
Either Chamber officials did not know anything about local black business history, or knew and chose to omit it. We can’t decide which one is worse.
If it is the former, a phone call to the folks at the Society for the Study of African American History would have been most enlightening. SSAAH’s 1999 book, “African Americans in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County: A Pictorial History,” is available at the library (only a short distance away from the new Chamber headquarters) and even on Amazon, www.amazon.com/African-Americans-Winston-Salem-Forsyth-County/dp/1578640679.
If it is the latter, and the organization just left the black highlights out, then shame on the Chamber! Not only does the report give an inaccurate snapshot of the last 100 years, it is a slap in the face to the men and women who achieved business success during a time when Jim Crow was king. These business pioneers succeeded despite the great odds of the time, and too long have their achievements been buried.