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African Americans in Business and Entrepreneurship: A Resource Guide

The history of African Americans in business has been shaped by institutional racism as well as inequities in education and opportunity. This guide provides access to a wide variety of primary and secondary sources to aid in the research of this topic.


Thomas J. Halloran, photographer. Upper class Negro residential area. Blagden Ave. N.W. 1963. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This research guide is designed as a starting point for locating primary and secondary sources relevant to the participation of African Americans in business, industry, commerce, and entrepreneurship in the United States. African American business and entrepreneurship has been shaped by institutional racism including slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching culture, and segregation, as well as inequities in education, job opportunities, housing policies, and policing. Included are related associations, current and past; statistical data sources; and images and guides to Library of Congress collections and resources.

It is important to note that each research project will be different, and it is not possible to include every possible resource and industry that may be of interest; but the resources included here should provide a foundation for those seeking an understanding of this field on which to conduct further research. If you have a topic of research that you need to expand upon, please refer to the Search the Library's Catalog page to find other resources using the provided subject headings, or submit a question through our Ask a Librarian service.

This guide is one of several research guides produced by the Business Reference Services focusing on business and economics topics. If you are looking for information about a contemporary company, consult Doing Company Research. For information on older or out of business companies, refer to Doing Historical Company Research. When researching companies there are many sources to use depending on the company, its size, industry, or location. Small and private companies tend to be harder to research, and will require more creativity and perseverance.

Newspapers can be good resources for finding information on individuals and companies; among the factors that may influence the usefulness of a source, the time period, whether or not the entities you are researching are still in business, and the relative popularity of the subject. Consult the Press & Publishing section of this guide for a list of digitized historic newspapers, and the Bibliography tab for resources on individuals. Note that researching individuals who are lesser known may require genealogical research.

Many local public and academic institutions, local and state historical societies, and State Libraries and Archives have knowledge of their state and local areas. These institutions will have collections that are geographically focused and will often have other material that will not be available anywhere else including: local papers, directories, telephone books, personal papers, uncatalogued materials, and oral histories.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in Library descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of the communities depicted, and may include negative stereotypes or words some may consider offensive. The Library presents the historic captions because they can be important for understanding the context in which the images were created.

About the Business Section

Part of the Science & Business Reading Room at the Library of Congress, the Business Section is the starting point for conducting research at the Library of Congress in the subject areas of business and economics. Here, reference specialists in specific subject areas of business assist patrons in formulating search strategies and gaining access to the information and materials contained in the Library's rich collections of business and economics materials.