Despite the struggles that African-Americans faced from the enslavement period to modern times, they have continued to make significant contributions in every aspect of American life. They took the little they had and went a very long way as successful men and women. Black entrepreneurs opened businesses all over the country prior to and after slavery.
In 1789, free blacks in Philadelphia ran shops throughout the city and by 1820 they owned about $250,000 worth of property. James Forten was a Philadelphia entrepreneur, and during the Revolutionary War he made his fortune as a sail maker.
In 1897, the Coleman Manufacturing Co. was established in Concord, N.C., by seven black men. The cotton mill had a work force of about 250 people. It shipped goods all over the United States and to parts of Africa and several cities in England.
Lewis Temple, who lived from 1800 to 1854, invented the whaling harpoon that became known as “Temple’s Toggle.” It became the standard harpoon of the whaling industry. Temple made a good living from his invention.
Black inventor Elijah J. McCoy invented a self-lubricating device that allowed small amounts of oil to drip continuously onto the moving parts of a machine while in operation. He started the McCoy Manufacturing Co. in Detroit, Mich., in the 1870s. In time, anyone who owned a self-lubricating machine bragged of having “the real McCoy.” This is a popular term that we still hear today.
The ingenuity of black entrepreneurship has made its mark in Western New York as well, with men such as the late John Young. An article that appeared in The Buffalo News on Feb. 7, 1996, recalled the story of Young and his claim to the chicken wing. Young died with one regret – he did not receive the credit he felt he deserved for making the chicken wing popular in Buffalo. The article said: “True, John Young has received precious little notice in the past 30-some years. In spite of some mentions in the famous Calvin Trillin New Yorker magazine piece in 1980, and despite a proclamation from the Common Council on April 12, 1982, crediting him as the originator, few official sources mention Young’s part in the wing epic that has seen the skinny chicken parts become a staple snack all over the United States.”
Young opened a number of restaurants in Buffalo. One of the most popular was called Wings ’n’ Things located at 1313 Jefferson Ave. It should be a historical site.
Most people in the black community during that time knew that the most delicious, mouth-watering wings were sold at this location. Young made them famous with the incredible “Mambo Sauce.” Lines of people stood around the corner of Jefferson Avenue to purchase them. Young knew a lot about wings, as did so many blacks from the South. His family raised chickens and other animals. When he came North, he worked for a restaurant chain and later decided to open his own business. Celebrities came to his restaurant to taste his famous wings.
Black business men and women continue to operate in the African-American community in Western New York in the same tradition as those who came before them. The surnames of these individuals include Bellamy, Warren, Saleh, Merriweather, Peoples, Luchey, Grant, Hobson, Parker, Banks, Holley, Tyler and Bell. The observance of African-American History continues in the lives of ordinary people in the black community making a positive difference every day of the year.
Eva M. Doyle is a columnist for the Buffalo Criterion newspaper, where this article originally appeared. It is the last of four parts.