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The evolution of the National Black Chamber of Commerce – Part 1

Beyond the Rhetoric

Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow ow contribuor | 6/27/2019, 10:02 a.m.

James Alford was a slave owner and farmer from Noonan, Ga. He would move and resettle in Alabama (with his slaves). After a short stint there, he took his family and slaves to Bossier Parrish, La. One of his slaves was Cicero Alford who is the great-grandfather of Harry. Harry’s other three great-grandfathers (Bill Brown, Thomas Watkins and John Salter) were also born slaves and freed in 1865 at the end of the Civil War.

Bill Brown was a legend. He was a “breeder.” His mother arrived from Africa to the slave market of Savannah, Ga. He was a tall, muscular man and was used to impregnate female slaves – just like a rancher does with his cattle. It is rumored that he fathered at least 100 children in four states before the end of the Civil War. Thomas Watkins owned 255 acres which were lost to the family when he suddenly “disappeared” in 1875. John Salter was a Presbyterian minister in Webster Parrish, La. and looks “quite white” from his picture.

Harry’s parents, Harry Sr. and Christine Alford, would leave Louisiana for the lure of California during World War II. The state was booming with the war industry and many of their siblings would follow. Veterans were guaranteed jobs at the many military facilities in the sunny state and that is how most Blacks were lured to it. Besides, unlike Indianapolis and Louisiana, there was no rigid Jim Crow style of discrimination.

Harry’s parents had no high school to go to when they were being raised in rural Louisiana, replete with red clay and no asphalt. The nearest Black high school was 40 miles away in Shreveport. In fact, the school year was only three months (in the winter when there were no crops to attend to). Thus, their education was up to the eighth grade. From there they were, in fact, like their peers and became young adults at 16 and marriage would come soon. That was better than Harry’s grandparents who were sharecroppers.

Harry and Kay – two children growing up. One on the West Coast and the other in the Midwest. No one could predict that one day their paths would cross. The prospect of the beginning of the National Black Chamber of Commerce was far, far away.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce ®. Kay DeBow is the co-Founder, executive vice president of the NBCC, Website: www.nationalbcc.org Emails: halford@nationalbcc.org; kdebow@nationalbcc.org

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