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The evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part Two

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow ow contribuor | 7/3/2019, midnight

Harry C. Alfrod

Kay and I came from two different worlds. She was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN from a prestigious upper-class family with business interests throughout the city. I was born and raised in sunny Southern California—Oxnard--to be exact. Ventura County was booming with transplants from all over the nation.

It didn’t take much to be a trail blazer. Most of the Black families were from the “Jim Crow” South. They were vigilant to detect any type of discrimination and would physically stomp it out. Indianapolis was close to the southern cities. Schools, movie theaters and public facilities were separate and of course not equal.

Kay lived across the street from Riverside Park – an amusement venue. She and her siblings could only use the park on Wednesday’s (colored day) which was common in the south. Movie theaters didn’t integrate until the mid-60s.  

My roots were totally lower class. My father was a short haul truck drive his entire adult life. My mother was a domestic for some rather rich White folks. Our relatives would pool resources and that allowed many of my relatives to get by without expending too much money. Utilizing our southern roots several families would get together and buy a full - grown cow. Then we would go out to the country, shoot the cow, remove the insides and cut up the meat for distribution to the participating families. Our freezers would be packed with good beef for months. This is an example of how we got by on little salaries.

I realized my athletic ability early in life. It became apparent from watching college sports on television that a Black kid can go to college and have a great start in life if he could run, catch or pass. Football became my “hustle” and it took me to the University of Wisconsin. It made me a star on campus with perks and unearned favors came easy. As I started nearing graduation a “glitch” appeared to be in my way. It was the military draft generated from our evil war in Vietnam. I was put into the first draft lottery and my birth date was assigned “number four.” It was definite. I was going into the Army.

Procter & Gamble had already made me a job offer upon graduation. I would join the sales force for Packaged Soap & Detergent. I informed my contact and he said that would not be a problem. He encouraged me to sign up instead of waiting for the draft call. That way I could apply for Officer Candidate School. He explained: “Harry, you have a future in corporate America and even in the military. Become an officer and that will enhance your portfolio immensely. Corporate America will regard you as a proven leader and your value would increase exponentially. A college-educated Army officer with a strong athletic background makes you have increased value. Procter & Gamble will be here when you return, and our door will be wide open.”