Booker T. Washington’s historic Black trade organization, the National Business League (NBL), turned 120 years old, and celebrations will begin over the next year.

On Sunday, August 23, 2020, the NBL’s 120,000 members across 367 chapters worldwide celebrated the organization’s steadfast commitment to the economic development of Black communities. On its 120th birthday, the NBL is poised to streamline the integration of the nation’s 2.6 million black businesses into the global marketplace using technology. Black-owned businesses generate $150 billion in annual revenue in the U.S. and support 3.56 million U.S. jobs. This advanced shift into the digital age will be absolutely critical in the post-COVID-19 era, according to NBL president and CEO Ken L. Harris, Ph.D.

“Booker T. Washington’s vision is more relevant today than it was 120 years ago, as a new generation of unapologetic Black leadership takes the helm,” said Harris, president/CEO of the National Business League, Inc. “The revolution won’t be televised; it shall be digitized,” he said.

Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, organized the National Negro Business League on August 23, 1900, to promote “commercial, agricultural, educational, financial, and industrial advancement of the Negro [sic].” In 1966, the organization was renamed the National Business League.

“Booker T. Washington’s vision was that a significant number of our people would train for, and become, captains of industry, employing millions during this time of global economic development,” said Booker T. Washington’s great-grandson, Marshall Washington-Cabiness Abuwi, Ph.D.

The World Conference of Mayors, an organization engaged with 5,000 current and former mayors throughout the United States and around the world, joined the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance in voting unanimously to adopt a formal declaration recognizing the National Business League as an official partner in its efforts to develop Black business and commerce-driven activity worldwide and declaring Aug. 23 an official holiday in recognition of 120 years of service. The Honorable Johnny Ford, founding president of the World Conference of Mayors, said, “This is the beginning of a worldwide partnership unifying the Black political economy throughout the world to further develop the entrepreneurial and innovative landscape within the global marketplace.”

Booker T. Washington was also known for his ability to develop financial and political connections between the Black community and white corporate elite. Washington’s close associate, Andrew Carnegie, helped Washington establish a group of corporate giants such as John D. Rockefeller, JP Morgan, John Wanamaker, and Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck and Co., just to name a few. These men played pivotal roles in helping the NBL to development Black businesses throughout America.

“Today, the NBL has established itself as a corporate powerhouse with more than 125 Fortune 500 companies, public and private partnerships, including the likes of Amazon, AMEX, Comcast, Comerica Bank, FIAT Chrysler, Ford, GM, Google, and Toyota, as the organization further advocates for economic equity and inclusion of Black businesses nationwide,” said Thomas W. Dortch, Jr., NBL Board Chairman.

In Booker T. Washington’s last address to the league, he said, “At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion itself there must be for our race, as for all races, an economic foundation, economic prosperity, economic independence.”

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