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.
By examining the economic results of desegregation in the insurance industry, Weems began to notice how corporate America profited as well from the Civil Rights Movement. The result was his second book, Desegregating the Dollar: African American Consumerism in the Twentieth Century (1998)—a comprehensive look at the African-American community as a consumer base in the U.S.