RACES Black Expo in Chicago Black Expo was billed as the largest gathering of black businessmen in history. When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America's fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace.
Under the leadership of the Rev. Jesse Jackson, black businessmen from 40 states gave their backing to Jackson's assertion that economic development "green power"is the way to black power. Self-sufficiency, Jackson said during the opening-day ceremonies, is the first step in breaking out of the ghetto. Said Jackson: "We do not want a welfare state. We have potential. We can produce. We can feed ourselves." Despite the enthusiastic speeches, however, black capitalism is still in an initial stage of development. Aware of that, Jackson proposed a "domestic Marshall Plan" to help black neighborhoods develop their economic potential.
While thousands, including the black schoolchildren of Chicago, filed past the displays of cosmetic manufacturers, restaurateurs, modeling agencies and contractors and clothiers, black officials moved in to give workshops and strategy lessons. Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes appeared to plead for grass-root political organization aimed at electing black politicians in local races and building a base for a future black presidential candidate. In a speech he described as a "political emancipation proclamation," Stokes expanded on a plan formulated by Georgia State Representative Julian Bond: black voters would withhold support from current presidential candidates and develop their own political organization. Although Stokes rejected the notion of a fourth-party nominee in 1972, he urged local groups to organize in order to wring concessions at the Republican and Democratic conventions. Said Stokes: "It isn't done by wishing and hoping, by leaving as many as 50,000 registered black voters at home. Personalities come and go, but the issues and the processes go on. And nothing happens if you don't learn the basic mechanics."
The rumblings of growing political power were loud enough to attract the Democrat with the keenest sense of grass-root organization, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley. Although Jackson, as director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Operation Breadbasket, has been one of Daley's most outspoken critics, the mayor was on hand to help open Black Expo. Awkwardly clasping Jackson's hand in a "soul handshake," Daley forced a smile for the television cameras, then toured the exhibits. His presence testified to the political and economic clout that Black Expo had been set up to evoke.