Monday, July 8, 2013

Robert Weems Explores African American Entrepreneurs in Wichita, Kansas

Robert Weems Jr., courtesy Wichita State University
In 2011, Robert Weems, Jr., accepted a position as the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History at Wichita State University. Since his arrival there, he has been researching the history of African American businesses in Wichita. Because many earlier African American businesses no longer exist, Weems is concerned that their histories will be lost, “this whole significant area of the African-American experience . . . come and gone with barely a trace.” “In general we know African-American history continues to be one of the more under-reported areas of historical inquiry,” says Weems. “But [when] we look at the economic and business dynamic of the African American experience, that’s especially underreported.” To help remedy the gap, he is conducting interviews with Wichita's surviving black entrepreneurs with a view to establishing a database of information about Wichita's African-American business history that will be of use to future students and scholars.  The interviews and other materials will be housed in the Ablah Library’s Special Collections at WSU. Weems can be heard discussing some of his findings in an interview on KMUW, Wichita Public Radio, which aired on June 27, 2013.
   Readers can also listen to a series of Weems' reports in the series "Past and Present" on KMUW.
   Weems, a long-time BHC member and a former Trustee, is the author of  Black Business in the Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985 (1996), and Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century (1998); his most recent book is Business in Black and White: American Presidents and Black Entrepreneurs in the Twentieth Century (New York University Press, 2009). Weems can be seen discussing the latter book on C-Span in May 2012. His other current project is a biography of the Anthony Overton, the first African American to found a business conglomerate, who began his entrepreneurial career in Kansas City, Missouri.