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African American History

Essay:  Week 1

Africans and Business, 
A Story of Perseverance, 
A Celebration of African American History
The Way Forward

    Did you know Africans and business date back thousands of years? The history has been full of success, failures and challenges. Through it all, there have been perseverance and vigilance.

    So what is business? Merriam and Webster defines business as: “a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood.” Here are just a few African kingdoms and business empires (both small and very large businesses):

The Mali Empire.

The great Mali Empire began in the 1200s by Sundiata Keita, sometimes referred to as “Lion King”. It was known for being the epicenter of trade, elaborate mosques, Islamic schools, and simply for being a world of luxury and riches.


The Kingdom of Kush.

This ancient Nubian empire ruled over a vast territory along the Nile River, in what is modern day Sudan starting from around 785 BC. The Kingdom thrived for over a thousand years and was a center of trade for iron and gold.


The Kingdom of Aksum.

An influential empire was thriving in East Africa during the times of the Roman Empire. The Kingdom of Aksum was a trading giant whose gold and ivory created a vital link between ancient Europe and the Far East.


The Kingdom of Zimbabwe.

Established around 1220, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe expanded artistic and stone masonry tradition to impressive levels. Elaborate stone buildings were built and trade with Asia and Arabic partners thrived in this Kingdom that was greatly influenced by the Kingdom of Mapungubwe in Southern Africa.


The Songhai Empire.

This large West African empire was formed in the 15th century and encompassed a dozen of modern day African nations. The capital of this massive empire was the city of Gao, which was located in modern day Mali.

    Let’s move forward in time few hundred or thousand years to Africans and business in the western hemisphere . . . the “new world”. Africans, business and slavery in the United States still continued, but the terms were different for Africans; they did NOT get paid. Africans still did business. What kind of business did Africans do in Virginia in the 18th century?


Bakers; Barbers; Basket Makers; Blacksmiths; Brewers; Bricklayers; Brick Makers; Butchers; Cabinet Makers; Canoe Men; Carpenters; Carters; Cartwrights; Caulkers; Coachmen; Colliers; Cooks; Coopers; Curriers; Dairy Maids; Dancers; Ditchers; Drivers; Doctors; Dressmakers; Farmers; Ferrymen; Fiddle Makers; Fiddlers; Finers; Firemen; Fish Dealers; Fishermen; Foremen; Forge Men; Founders; Furnace Men; Furnace Keepers; Gardeners; Glaziers; Gunsmiths; Hairdressers; Hammermen; Harness Makers; Hostlers; House Joiners; Knitters; Millers; Mill Wrights; Miners; Musicians; Nurses; Overseers; Pilots; Plasterers; Preachers; Rope Makers; Saddlers; Sailmakers; Sailors; Sawyers; Seamstresses; Ship Carpenters; Ship Builders; Shoe Makers; Smiths; Skippers; Spinners; Stone Masons; Tailors; Tanners; Turners; Wagon Makers; Wagoners; Waiters; Watermen; Weavers; and Wheelwrights.


    In the Jim Crow Era, redlining, voter suppression and other state sanctioned discrimination and violence, still did not stop Africans from doing business. Most people are familiar with incidents like the burning, looting and murders visited upon Black Wall Street businesses and African American citizens. Nonetheless, Africans and business continued, but after 400 years in North America, there are some notable lingering deleterious effects on African business and wealth creation. For example:

The Way Forward is self-evident to many Americans. Democracy plays a vital role to ensure an even-handed application of the law to all United States citizens. To provide not only the assurance that we are a country of laws and not men, but also justice. It’s incumbent upon citizens to exercise their franchise to support the elected and candidates that are like-minded in such policies and actions:


A transformation of acquisition laws in state and federal government that provides equity and justice to African American business, and by extension to their families and communities.


After all, it’s our tax dollars, not a hand-out. 


Happy African American History Month 2021



Mark A. Cannady, Chair

Virginia Democratic Small Business Caucus (VADSBC) 


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