Dr. Webb Evans spent most of his life trying to get a simple message across: “Buy black.”
When I first encountered Evans in the early ’90s, he had been on this crusade for more than 50 years. But you wouldn’t know it from the gleam in his eye and the fire in his belly.
“Dr. King stated that he planned to change the struggle for civil rights to a struggle of economic and political empowerment,” Webb said in an interview with the Jackson Advocate in 2010.
“Since Dr. King is not here to carry out what he had planned, we who are still here . . . must march with our dollars to each other in order to accomplish what we were not able to accomplish with our civil rights marches,” he said.
Affectionately known as “Mr. Buy Black,” Evans founded the Chicago-based United American Progress Association in 1961. He was 101 years old when he passed away February 23. His homegoing service was held on Saturday.
Minister Rahim Aton took over the “buy black” mantle when Evans became too ill to shoulder it.
“His whole purpose was to educate blacks of the tremendous need to circulate our dollars among ourselves, to support black business and to teach [blacks] to go into business, thereby creating jobs as opposed to begging for jobs,” said Aton, who now serves as the organization’s board chairman and president.
“His whole thrust is that all other ethnic groups buy from themselves first. You don’t see other ethnic groups looking for black businesses to support or buy from. If we spend $1 trillion a year and only half a percentage goes back to our own community, that is why we have a ghetto,” he said.
Throughout the years, Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the Austin African-American Business Networking Association, would run into Evans at community meetings.
“No matter what we would be talking about — the prison industrial complex, education, crime — he kept saying, we just need to buy black. Over time, it kind of filtered into our organization,” he said.
Still, “buy black” has been a difficult concept to sell to the black masses.
For instance, it is a bitter irony that while busloads of black Chicagoans went to Selma, Ala., to memorialize “Bloody Sunday,” (thus spending thousands of dollars on things like gas, food, hotel, and transportation), a “GoFundMe” crowd-funding campaign set up to raise funds to purchase property at 79th Street between Hermitage and Pulaski to develop the “Dr. Webb Evans Center for Economic Change” has only attracted $105 in two days.
“That is sad. Webb Evans was born in Greensboro, Ala., and his homegoing is on the 7th which is the day that they are going to relive going across the bridge,” Aton noted.
“Dr. Martin Luther King made the observation that civil rights would eventually become a bridge to economic rights for our people. So that is the bridge that we’ve got to cross,” he said.
Although Evans may be unknown to the broader community, his advocacy has inspired men like Crawford.
The business networking association he heads up on the West Side started its own “buy black” effort.
“We were upset that blacks were not shopping with us and from a series of conversations, we found that we were not shopping with each other,” he said.
Now the group periodically holds a Black Economic Empowerment Rally or “BEER,” where members come together to support a designated black-owned business.
“Dr. Evans was right. We’ve got to understand why we need to buy black,” Crawford said.