For two decades Robert E. Weems, Jr. has been studying interrelated aspects of African-American business and economic history at levels both local and national. The MU professor of History observes that the history of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, with its once-thriving black business district, stands as a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” he notes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Weems’ first book, Black Business in Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985 (1996), based on his dissertation research, explored the factors underlying this change. The history of this now-defunct black insurance company in Chicago has implications for the economics of race in America in general.
Robert Weems’ current research project, with colleague Lewis Randolph, looks at the history of U.S. government interest in black business development with a special focus on Richard Nixon’s “Black Capitalism” initiative.
What began as a one-book project, with Lewis Randolph, has turned into a two-volume work. The first looks at the 1920s Division of Negro Affairs up to the Nixon administration, while the second poses the question, “Whatever happened to black capitalism?” and looks at the Ford administration.
Crucial to any historian is the preexisting secondary literature. Weems draws upon this kind of information to establish the framework and general parameters of his own research.