Published Date

May 21, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For the Classroom, Video


African American, Current Events in Historical Context, Economic, Labor, Social, State & Local (US), Urban

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


United States

This event was part of the May 2016 conference The Future of the African American Past, co-hosted by the American Historical Association and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“Capitalism and the Making and Unmaking of Black America” grapples with the complex and often painful history of the effects of capitalism on African American work lives, using a range of contexts and stories, from America’s first Black millionaire to the ongoing problem of poverty in urban and rural America.


Speakers and Contents

  • 00:12 – Introduction by Lonnie Bunch (NMAAHC) and Jim Grossman (AHA)
  • 03:14 – Steven Hahn (Univ. of Pennsylvania) discusses the exploitative impact of capitalism on African American communities, and alternately how African Americans seized opportunities to turn capitalism to their own advantage.
  • 12:07 – Adrienne Monteith Petty (City Coll. of New York) argues that Black landownership was more important to the Black freedom struggle than previous narratives have suggested, pointing particularly to how Black sharecroppers served as the “vanguard” of economic justice in the South.
  • 23:03 – Shane White (Univ. of Sydney) highlights forgotten narratives and successes in 19th-century Black business life, centering on Wall Street’s first African American millionaire, Jeremiah Hamilton.
  • 34:03 – Eric Arnesen (George Washington Univ.) discusses how African Americans challenged trade union exclusion from postwar emancipation to the civil rights movement.
  • 50:41 – William Julius Wilson (Harvard Univ.) discusses the social impact of jobless-driven poverty and black male engagement with American capitalism.


  • Interview with Samuel Lee by Hudson Vaughan, 31 May 2012, U-0986, in the Southern Oral History Program Collection #4007, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  • Pigford v. Glickman
  • Joseph Vargas v. Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Equity Case Files of the US Circuit Court for the Southern District of New York, 1791–1846, National Archives, Microfilm Publications, M884, Roll 14, x-116.
  • “The Only Black Millionaire in New York,” Frederick Douglass Papers, March 1852
  • “Death of a Colored Millionaire,” Hudson Evening Register, May 20, 1875
  • “Leader of March on Capital Links Freedom and Jobs,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 26, 1963
  • Testimony of A. Philip Randolph, “Federal Role in Urban Affairs. Part 9,” Hearings before the Subcommittee on Executive Reorganization of the Committee on Government Operations. US Senate, Eighty-Ninth Congress, Second Session, December 6, 1966 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1967), 1994.