Encyclopedia of African American Business: Updated and Revised Edition, 2nd ed. Edited by Jessie Carney Smith. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017. 2 vols. Acid-free $198 (ISBN 978-1-4408-5027-1). E-book available (978-1-4408-5028-8), call for pricing.

The African American contribution to business and economic institutions in America is significant and spans “the period from 18th-century America to the present” (xlv). This encyclopedia is unique in being a reference work dedicated solely to exploring this contribution and its impact. In the preface, the editor, Jessie Carney Smith, Dean of the Library and Camille Cosby Distinguished Chair in the Humanities at Fisk University in Nashville, TN, mentions, “one subject that has been met with somewhat limited appeal is African American books on businesses, merely because the focus is narrow and unlike the wider scope of literary works” (xli). This explains the dearth of similar works in the field. It is this gap that motivated her to first publish this work in 2006 and prompted the publisher to reissue it eleven years later in 2017.

The two-volume work features 259 entries. The work is organized in traditional encyclopedia format with an alphabetical list of entries, dates, references, bibliography, and index. The alphabetical arrangement of the entries can make perusing this set confusing as they vary broadly between people, events, and concepts. To address this, the set contains a “Guide to related topics,” and “African American Business Leaders by Occupation” (v) sections to assist in cross-referencing topics or searching for specific people by their associated industry.

Unsurprisingly, America’s reprehensible civil rights record makes an appearance in the vast majority of entries. Details such as, “black entrepreneurs who became very successful were driven from the South” (xlvi), “The institution of chattel slavery took the merchandising process to a horrible extreme with human beings, as well as agricultural and other natural resources, becoming products for purchase” (107), “petitioning the U.S. Congress to act in preventing the kidnapping of free blacks into slavery under the Fugitive Slave Law” (325), and “racism was still present, especially when he saw big city engineers doing everything they could to keep contracts from going to minority-owned companies,” (373) all illustrate that separating racism’s appalling impact on African American business is impossible.

The work’s strength is that it provides a comprehensive summary of the business and economic contributions of African Americans in the evolution of American business. This contribution is immense and covers everything from small business creation, corporate leadership, governmental economic policy, and philanthropy. This work comes recommended to all types of libraries, but would be essential for libraries supporting programs or readership with an interest in African American business, history, or culture.—Khyle M. Hannan, Business Librarian, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio


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