The Waltons are the richest family in the country, with three individuals ranked in the top 15 wealthiest Americans. The Waltons, of course, made their fortune through Walmart, the largest employer in the United States and the largest company in the world, by revenue. Walmart was founded by Sam Walton, whose first “Walton’s Five and Dime” store was located in Bentonville, Arkansas. This past weekend, however, Walmart was not the story in Bentonville, as the city held its first Black Owned Business Expo.
Organizers of the expo “wanted to to amplify, celebrate, and highlight” local Black entrepreneurs. The event featured chiropractors, health insurance companies, clothing vendors and many others. The backdrop of Black History Month provided a fitting context for the Expo, an occasion for Black people in the community to commit to empowerment and cooperative economics. There was also a panel on entrepreneurship and in the future, organizers hope to do similar events. The focus on and celebration of entrepreneurship are particularly important, in Arkansas.
Bishop Henry McNeal Turner of the AME Church said, “Arkansas is destined to be the great Negro state of the country,” in January 1889. “The meagre prejudice compared to some states, and opportunity to acquire wealth, all conspire to make it inviting to the colored man. This is the state for colored men who wish to live by their merits.” Black people responded and their numbers in Arkansas tripled from 1870 to 1890. Black dentists, doctors and a host of other professionals flourished in the state but racism put an end to the pursuit of a promised land. Nationally, 25 percent of Blacks live in poverty, while in Arkansas the number is about 32 percent.
What happened over the weekend in Bentonville was an important start, a first step in a much larger journey towards independence. In the shadows of Walmart headquarters, Black entrepreneurs gathered to plant the seeds of a new Black Wall Street, one funded by Black dollars. Walmart, after all, has a significant Black customer base and if those consumers kept their dollars in their community, the possibilities are endless.
Walmart, incidentally, has been found to participate in discriminatory practices.