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Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin

By Eric V. Franco
Standards: 8.1, 8.5, 8.10, 8.12; 12.2, 12.5, 12.9, 12.18
Grade Level: Secondary
Topic: Wisconsin's Response to 20th-century change

Lesson Plan Text:

Introduction: Many African Americans' response to the social norms of Jim Crow was to create a society within a society, where two cultures, southern white and southern black, lived in tandem. Often the targets of discrimination and violence many southern blacks in the 1920s through 1940s migrated to northern states such as Wisconsin hoping to find employment, maltreatment, humiliation and leave the racial shackles of the Jim Crow South.

The economic boom of the 1950s increased Americans' standards of living considerably. Wisconsin was no exception. Milwaukee's industrial complex presented a seemingly unlimited amount of industrial and service labor. But what other economic opportunities existed amidst this booming economy? What affect did it have on African Americans in Wisconsin? Were African Americans' opportunities limited to factories and services? Throughout the lesson, students should learn about the various levels of labor and economic opportunity and community interdependence of Wisconsin's African Americans during the 1950s.

Focus Questions:
1. How did the 1950s economic boom affect African Americans living in Wisconsin?
2. Was a homogenous business directory a necessary network for the establishment, development, and success of African American businesses?
3. Does such racial networks encourage support or segregation?

Who, What, When, Where, and Why
The first directory of African American businesses in Wisconsin appeared in 1950. Edited by Mary Ellen Shadd, the directory profiled professional, religious, educational, civic, fraternal, social, historical, commercial, and industrial organizations operated by and for African Americans. It also included advertisements for businesses that were friendly to African Americans, including a national listing of hotels where blacks could "vacation without humiliation." Besides business listings, the directory contained practical information on first aid, city garbage collection, and a list of wedding anniversary gifts.

Lesson Objectives: 
The students will analyze a primary source and draw inferences based on the evidence provided within the document.

Students will examine the state of the African American business and professional community in Wisconsin.

Students will learn about the interdependence of the Wisconsin African American community during the 1950s.

Resources:  Document Analysis worksheet

Book--Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin 1950-1951, by Mary Ellen Shadd

Suggested Activities:

Organize students into research teams of two to three so that they can discuss the following questions as they analyze the document.

Part I
1. Distribute the WHS primary document analysis worksheet.

2. Students need to take a few minutes to browse through the Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin 1950-1951 and complete the questions.

Part II

1. Examine the front cover. Read the title of the directory and look at the pictures. What seems to be ironic or out of place? Who is the audience of the directory?

2. Examine the Inside Front Cover. Think about racial stereotypes --- brainstorm what comes to mind as you reflect on what is listed in the front cover. Write what comes to mind and share with your partner.

3. Read the editor's note (page 3): What assumptions does she have about America? Based on what you know about the experience of African Americans during the 1950s, how does the editor's note contradict or reinforce what you know?

4. Review the various listings within the index (pages 5-10). What occupations are you surprised to see? Why? What do the occupational listings suggest about career opportunities for African Americans during the 1950s?

5. Examine the Review of Churches. Why do you think the directory included such an extensive profile of churches? What does this suggest about Wisconsin's black business community?

Students should discuss the context of the following statements with the overall purpose of the Negro Business Directory:

6. Read the caption at the bottom of page 43.
"If you keep your business to yourself, your products remain on the shelf. ADVERTISE IT PAYS."

7. Read the caption at the bottom of page 48.
"Cooperation - not competition - is the life of business."

8. Read the caption at the bottom of page 52.

9. Read the caption at the bottom of page 59.
"If your Ad Was In This space It Would be Staring Someone in the Face"

10. Read the caption at the bottom of page 75.
"ADVERTISE IT PAYS. There is a BEST in Everything."

11. What is the purpose of the Negro Business Directory of Wisconsin?  Explain how it may have helped or hindered people's understanding of racial issues during its time.

12 What does the very existence of the Negro Business Directory of Wisconsin suggest about everyday life of African Americans in Wisconsin? How does your conclusion fit with the editor's statement on page 3?

Teachers should conduct a formative assessment in tandem with student activity.  Students should be able to identify the Negro Business Directory of the State of Wisconsin as evidence of interdependence among the African American community. Students should understand that many Wisconsin blacks were successful middle class business owners, dispelling the social myth that all African Americans lived in extreme poverty or earned a living through unskilled labor and domestic occupations.. However, students should also be cognizant of the racial community as a response to compounded racism and humility over time.

Possible Lesson Extensions: 
Distribute Milwaukee City Maps and colored push-pins to students. Have students choose twenty-five businesses. Next, have students place a push-pin on the Milwaukee City Map where each business is located. Examine the location of the African-American businesses with consideration to neighborhood affluence and socio-economic conditions.  Students should discuss the possible reasons for such urban segregation.

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