The University of Tennessee welcomed Dr. Robert E. Weems, Jr. on Monday, October 30th as a guest lecturer for the Humanities department.
Weems’ talk, “The Evolution of the Trillion Dollar African American Consumer Market”, was the latest edition in the Humanities department’s sixth annual Distinguished Lecture Series.
During the lecture, Dr. Weems spoke on the growth of African Americans as consumers and the evolution of their market segment.
Weems noted that the African American consumer market saw a great migration following World War II, bringing their business to urban epicenters. This shift caught the eye of many firms, which led them to create specialized marketing directed toward African Americans.
“During the 1940s, we saw a growing number of large corporations hire the so called ‘Negro Market Specialist’,” Dr. Weems said. “These were African Americans that helped large companies to develop marketing campaigns for this market that was becoming increasingly important … these negro marketing specialists of the 1940s represent the black pioneers in corporate America.”
According to Weems, there has been no real accumulation of African American wealth, just their spending power.
Though collective income has increased, Weems elaborated that much of that is spent on basic commodities such as clothing and automobiles rather than appreciating assets like real estate and stocks and bonds, “Just having stuff is not building [wealth].”
While it is clear that African Americans have an important place in consumer markets, Weems noted that their place as business owners is what is most cloudy when looking toward the future.
“There’s no need to reinvent the wheel – a lot of what needs to be done today has been done in the past …What is missing today are two things: someone with the vision … to come up with this idea about how to use black dollars to promote positive economic activity in the black community,” Weems said.
The most important part? Ordinary citizens buying into that vision, he says.
After all, the African American spending market is a trillion-dollar industry.
Dr. Weems works with Wichita State University and is the Willard W. Garvey Distinguished Professor of Business History. Weems’ career is decorated with knowledge and publications regarding African American business, economics, and history.