Business and Unions

How was the National Negro Business League involved in the development of CMA stores?

After the success of the initial stores, Albon L. Holsey (1883–1950), national secretary of the National Negro Business League (NNBL), became involved, visited some of the stores, and became so impressed with the “Montgomery Plan,” as he called it, that he recommended that the NNBL support the project. The league complied and Holsey became national organizer. He advanced the CMA’s objectives of promoting modern methods of selling, promoting the psychology of the black consumer, and uniting local jobbers and wholesalers. The plan spread to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in May 1929, making it the second city to open a CMA store. Holsey helped the plan to move elsewhere, and soon stores were seen in most major American cities, including Dallas, Tulsa, Atlanta, Nashville, Louisville, and Richmond in the South; and Omaha, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, and Brooklyn outside the South. Most transactions were for cash, with greater sales coming on Fridays and Saturdays. As Holsey moved the plan to Harlem, he emphasized the necessity of training in modern merchandising methods, under the tutelage of experts. Membership grew rapidly, reaching a total of twenty-three stores in two years. Even the stock market crash of 1929 did not substantially affect the CMAs. By 1936, however, many CMA stores withdrew membership, some claiming that the chain was white-owned, others claiming that members intentionally oversold each other on the “specials” that were offered, and still others preferring to sell different brands. Despite their eventual failure, the CMAs had benefited from “oneness of action,” witnessed the purchasing power of blacks, provided jobs for blacks, and promoted black pride in business ownership.


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