Economic Development and the African-American Culture


For the past 18 years I have devoted my life to working in what I later discovered is the area of Cultural Economic Development. My understanding of that enterprise, however, didn’t emerge until 2006 when I was forced to pick a topic for my doctoral dissertation. Through my research, I realized that what I had been doing all that time was carving out a niche through which I could inform people in the Black community what the rest of the world already knew and had been capitalizing on for a very long time. This crystallized into a realization: Black Culture Sells. And it is a very profitable commodity.

I had battled to include Black people in the development of the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum and the Pullman community, to awaken community pride and civic consciousness.

It took 20 years of promoting the legacy left by the Pullman porters for me to see the manifestation of that self-interest. Unfortunately, during this time, we sat and watched everyone else benefit from the packaging and selling of our cultural product not only regarding the A. Philip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum but across the board.

The play, Pullman Porter Blues, is an excellent example. The Goodman Theatre in Chicago did a fantastic job of selling Black culture in what was a wonderful production of the play. I am certain the box office is very happy. The question is how did the Black community benefit?

African Americans should be the primary beneficiary of the sale of our cultural product. We only need to be who we are and to perfect ways to sell our culture to the broader public.

This then allows us to control the packaging and dissemination of our own cultural product. It seems to me that we need to educate our community on this concept so that we can begin to create and develop the required vehicles to distribute that product.

Another example of cultural economic development is happening right now. In Chicago, the buzz about the National Park Service and the historic Pullman museum is being co-opted by entities where the Pullman porter name was never even uttered.

Let me be very clear before someone attacks me as being prejudiced. In every American city there is a Chinatown. The customers who patronize those businesses are not all Asian. Get the point?

Some in the younger generation seem to have grasped this. Consider Sean Combs who just launched his own music network, Revolt TV, using the distribution vehicles of Comcast and Time Warner cable. It is not about separating ourselves from any other group, because inclusion is the key to success. It is about you benefiting from your own natural platform.

Dr. Lyn Hughes is the founder of the A. Phillip Randolph Pullman Porter Museum in Chicago. She can be reached at drhughes@aprpullmanportermuseum.org

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Economic Development and the African-American Culture

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