Lunch and the history of economic empowerment

Speaking to the Sacramento district, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
I’ll take some time on Tuesday, Feb. 23 to discuss the 2010 theme of Black History Month, the history of black economic empowerment, with the San Francisco field office staff of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, over lunch at the San Francisco International Airport.
Knowing how African-Americans have contributed to the American economy is part of the grounding that any large organization should provide to its employees.
I contend that history is the most important discipline, because one’s understanding or misunderstanding of history is a determinant of present and future behavior.
Here in San Francisco, African-Americans were among the earliest participants in international trade. James Douglas was the agent for the Hudson Bay Company, a British chartered trading company, in San Francisco in the 1840s.
William Alexander Leidesdorff launched the port of San Francisco by building the first shipping warehouse at what is now the corner of Leidesdorff Street and California Streets.
Later, Douglas was first governor of what is now British Columbia, site of the Winter Olympics, and welcomed more than 700 blacks who migrated from San Francisco in 1858.
Within that block is also the site of America’s first black-owned bank, started in 1857.
Peter Cole, author of a pamphlet “Cole’s War on Ignorance,” traded between San Francisco and Japan in the 1850s.
Capt. William T. Shorey was a whaling captain who skippered the last whaling vessel on the Pacific Coast at the end of the 19th century. He then organized a business among fellow black investors to run steamships from the West Coast to Africa, before World War I.
From the 1930s to the present, black longshoremen helped turn the Bay Area into the critical link between the Pacific Rim and the rest of the country in wartime and peace.
Particularly for organizations that engage in frequent public contact, a thorough briefing in such distinctive local history should be part of professional development. In discussions with other law enforcement agencies, we’ve indicated how a granular knowledge of African-American history and culture can put people at ease, build trust and defuse conflicts.
In The Black Queen: How African-Americans Put California on the Map, Vol. 4 of Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, we provide exercises geared not only to education, but also to professional development on how to infuse these details and narratives into coursework. Our local guide, Come to the Water: Sharing the Rich Black Heritage in San Francisco gives specific, up-to-date guidance for visitors and residents on how to discover the many cultural amenities in the world’s number one attraction.