The Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce is the oldest African-American Chamber of Commerce in Texas. In 1926, impatient with the limited direction from Booker T. Washington's National Negro Business League, businessmen in Dallas established the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce to promote economic progress among members of their race. Although the chamber maintained an affiliation with the National Negro Business League, leaders believed that "integrating the Negro community into the life of Greater Dallas" should remain the members' principal goal. The chamber initially consisted of 100 members directed by W. E. Clark. A period of intensive organizational activity occurred between 1933 and 1939, during Antonio Maceo Smith's tenure as executive secretary. Under Smith's leadership the chamber and its full-time staff counseled Black owners of small retail establishments such as barber and beauty shops, grocery stores, restaurants, service stations, and funeral homes and encouraged African Americans to patronize businesses owned by members of their race. The chamber established an employment service in the early 1940s. It lobbied on behalf of the Negro Plumbers Association, the Negro Movie Operators Union, the Negro Golf Association, and other interest groups and called for improved schools, housing, and law enforcement in the Black community. The staff also published an African-American directory for Dallas. Frequently the chamber organized civic leagues, prepared petitions, and arranged conferences with local governmental officials. While endorsing some White political candidates, the chamber campaigned for the employment of Black law officers, for public housing, and for street improvements in Black neighborhoods. Partly because of the chamber's efforts, the federal government provided financial support for the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial Exposition in 1936. The chamber also engaged in campaigns designed to encourage Blacks to pay their poll taxes. Working with the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People and other political groups such as the Democratic Progressive Voters League and the Council of Negro Organizations, the chamber supported racial equality and opposed the Democratic party's white primary in Texas. After a disturbance between Black soldiers and Dallas police in 1943, the chamber helped organize a biracial committee that sought to improve interracial relations in the city. The chamber also played important roles in desegregating Texas State Fair facilities and in developing the Hamilton Park subdivision for Black residents.
During the 1950s and 1960s the chamber sponsored urban renewal projects for Black neighborhoods. In the 1960s it helped move Bishop College from Marshall. Under the leadership of J. H. Glenn in 1964, the chamber sponsored a study of Black consumers in Dallas County which showed that the county's 169,000 African Americans contributed as much as $150 million annually to the local economy. By the 1970s the chamber was increasing cooperation with the Dallas Chamber of Commerce and other branches of the United States Chamber of Commerce. The chamber offered market surveys, public relations services, advertising assistance, and financial advice to local businesses. Under H. Ron White's presidency in 1975, the chamber changed its name to Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders attended symposia on "institutional racism," promoted tourism in Dallas, and attempted to place more African Americans on city boards and commissions. Although a self-study committee in 1971 criticized apathy among the nearly 500 chamber members and expressed concerns about the organization's future, by the early 1990s the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce had from 900 to 1,100 members and still provided seminars and workshops for small businesses, promoted Dallas to Blacks from other geographic locations, worked closely with the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and published a newsletter. Presidents of the chamber have included Antonio Maceo Smith (1933–39), Maynard H. Jackson, Sr. (1939–40), and John W. Rice (1942–62). In 1981 Helen Giddings became the chamber's first woman president, although the organization had admitted women members as early as 1942. Other Texas cities established Black chambers of commerce following the Dallas lead. The Texas Negro Chamber of Commerce, a federation of the local chambers, began in 1936 and patterned itself after the Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce. A statewide organization of Black chambers of commerce still operated in the early 1990s.
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Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce Collection, Texas-Dallas History and Archives Division, Dallas Public Library. Tempie Virginia Strange, The Dallas Negro Chamber of Commerce: A Study of a Negro Institution (M.A. thesis, Southern Methodist University, 1945).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Paul M. Lucko,
“Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
September 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 21, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: