When noted economist Julianne Malveaux set out to write a book about Black economic history, decision makers at mainstream publishing companies weren’t interested. Malveaux self-published “Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History” anyway. She refers to the book, an inspirational journey from the 18th to the 21st centuries, as “a love note to my people.”
A few weeks after being released by Last Word Productions, it was nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work: Non-Fiction. FOX TV will air the Image Awards ceremony at 8 p.m. on March 4.
“We’re looking at Wall Street moguls like the Ken Chenaults of the world or the Ursula Burnses of the world,” said Malveaux, who earned her PhD in economics from MIT and is currently president of Bennett College for women in Greensboro, N.C. “This is a story of triumph, but it’s also a story of tragedy. We have the Black Wall Street situation that is listed in the book.” Malveaux, a nationally recognized commentator, also included in the book capsule histories of unknown individuals and organizations.
An excerpt of our conversation follows.
Q: How does the creation of this book impact your legacy?
A: Everybody has a purpose and God puts all of us here with a purpose. I think mine has been around issues of economics and education: Economic justice, agitation and education around economic issues. I think that has been a consistent theme if you look at my work over the years.
Q: Several key figures are highlighted in your introductory essay, “From Free Frank to Billionaires and Beyond: The History of African-American Economic Experience.” Describe one situation that resonates with you.
A: We start out with Free Frank [Frank McWorter], because the whole concept of self-emancipation is one that, I think, is very little known to our people. The number of slaves who purchased themselves, and I always say–kind of in jest but kind of as an economist, a social scientist–I wish I could study the difference between the slaves who self-emancipated, those who ran away and those who stayed. What were the different facts that caused people to either self-emancipate or purchase themselves? Every time I say, “Purchase myself, purchase themselves,” my stomach hurts. It’s such a counterintuitive concept of purchasing yourself, of buying yourself in the land of the free, so-called.
Q: What do you want people to learn from this book?
A: Black people are economic players. We have been economic players all of the time that we have been here in this country, and I think it is important for us to know that. We’re just not these people who have been unemployed and broke and at the periphery. We have been central to so many things. Beginning with the building of our nation’s Capitol. A lot of people talk about Black people with their hands out–I am like, “No. You know, America has had its hand out to black people. Build this. Do that. We’ve done it. We have been major contributors to our nation.” So the first thing is that we’re economic contributors.
The second thing is that the rules of the game have always been rigged and yet we still played. It’s important to understand that, to know that, and to revel in that for our young people, especially, and for all of us. We talk about things not being fair. When were they ever fair for Black people? It wasn’t fair when Free Frank had to purchase himself. None of this stuff was fair. And yet we did it anyway. That is something else that we really need to be very, very clear about.
I think the third thing is that there are some stories in this book that are so moving, inspirational and powerful. Think about some of the people. A Maggie Lena Walker for example. Everybody knows about Madam C.J. Walker, but what about Maggie Lena Walker? You look at some of the other people–of course W.E.B. DuBois is in here and everybody knows Dr. DuBois, but how many people know about Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, the first Black woman to get a PhD in economics?
Q: Economically speaking, African-Americans are behind significantly. Speak to the notion of “catching up.” What are your thoughts?
A: We will never catch up and that’s okay. We’re not going to catch up, because when you talk about wealth–we used to be somebody’s wealth, you know what I mean? We used to be that which was owned and so, basically, wealth is about accumulation and we, basically, are behind in the process of accumulations.
So unless there are reparations or exogenous infusions of extraordinary capitol–unless something happens to give us more money, we’re not going to catch up, but can we still live good lives. Can we still be competitive? Of course. We need to be better organized. We’re not even organized individually. We know there are a whole bunch of things that are what you call the “tried and true” rules, such as saving, paying yourself first. We need to deal with financial literacy.
Q: What keeps you motivated?
A: First of all, I’m motivated by my young people, by the possibilities and the notion that we should be the bridge that they can walk across to a better future. To have the privilege–and I really consider it a privilege–to be able to be an educator. Because, basically, that means people are trusting me with their minds. Faith motivates me. Everybody has bad days and down days, but you can randomly pick up a Bible and just open to a page and find something that’s going to fire you back up.