Author: David Suisman
“In London in 1923, W. E. B. Du Bois addressed the third Pan-African Congress on the topic of “The American Negro.” In his talk he jumped from familiar themes such as voting rights and lynching to one topic that stood out: attempts by a large American phonograph record corporation to bankrupt Black Swan Records, a small, black-owned company that produced records for African American consumers. Why would a large phonograph corporation launch such a campaign? And why would it merit Du Bois’s attention in that heady forum?
By way of answering those questions, this article investigates the rise and fall of the small record company and explores the complex political economy in which it operated. Black Swan was established by a former protégé of Du Bois, Harry H. Pace, who saw the company as a powerful means to respond to the hostile conditions African Americans faced, both in the entertainment business and in American society at large. At stake was not merely entertainment but access to, and control of, material resources that could cultivate and boost African Americans’ creative spirits, support and encourage African American business development and economic self-sufficiency, and, it was believed, help shape popular opinion to produce tangible social, political, and economic benefits for African Americans.”
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