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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Although many compelling books have been written to document the African-American struggle for social justice and political power, somewhat less has been said about the urgent need for economic equality, despite the fact that so much of our cultural energy is focused on financial matters. In this thoughtful history of the individuals who broke -- and continue to break -- Wall Street's color barrier, Gregory S. Bell addresses the importance of the dollar as an instrument of change and, along the way, provides a fascinating capsule history of the African-American experience.
As Bell points out in the first chapter of his book, many of Wall Street's original roads and structures, including Trinity Church, were originally built by African slaves imported by the Dutch; ironically, human lives were one of the first commodities for sale in the neighborhood that would eventually become famous as the epicenter of the global marketplace. From these inauspicious beginnings, Bell proceeds to trace the fight for economic opportunity by looking at the lives of pioneering individuals such as June Middleton (who, in 1964, was "the only black, female stockholder who worked for a New York Stock Exchange firm"), Joe Searles ("the first black member of the New York Stock Exchange" with access to the floor), and Travers J. Bell, Jr. (the author's father and a partner in the groundbreaking firm of Daniels & Bell.) Although the history that this book narrates is marked by discontinuities -- advances that are met by setbacks rather than further progress -- these individuals ultimately prevailed in their struggle to open the historically closed world of American business to people of color.
One interesting point that Bell makes in his book concerns the importance of "legacy and heritage" to businesses: Great firms often carry on the names of their founders even as they extend the powerful and lucrative network of relationships put into place by those founders. African Americans have been forced to operate outside of these official structures, leaving them less able to compete on the financial playing field. There is a sense throughout the book that Bell is affirming the existence of an African-American tradition in business that has not been extensively explored, one that he experiences in a deeply personal way; In the Black could be viewed as a reclaiming of the legacy that the author inherited from his own father. Maybe this book will inspire future entrepreneurs to continue the struggle for economic equality, as Bell's father did so dramatically in his day. (Sunil Sharma)