Black builders from pyramids to 2010—what happened?


This column is not directed toward the accomplishments or failures of Black contractors in any city but Pittsburgh. However, in my estimation we need to focus to a degree about the history of Black builders. Everyone knows that the pyramids—one of the seven wonders of the world—were built by Blacks, and it still remains a mystery how, when every block weighed 50 tons, were cut to perfection and no mortar was used.

When Blacks were in slavery they mastered all the skill crafts, and once they were emancipated, they used their skills to build schools, colleges, universities, churches, etc. In the city of Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1900 there existed 85 successful Black-owned businesses [how many in 2010?] The most successful was Cumberland Posey, who owned the Diamond and Coke Co., two construction companies and employed an almost unbelievable 1,200 employees. This was before affirmative action, set-asides and any other kind of percentages.

How many of us remember Mr. Hunt, who lived on the Hill and built Knox Manor on Centre Avenue, now owned by Wesley Center AME Zion Church? He also built West Funeral Home on Wylie Avenue and if my memory is correct, built Macedonia Baptist Church on Bedford Avenue and a number of smaller buildings prior to government programs.

There was a time when a faction of people took to the streets of this nation with the cry “burn, baby, burn.” There were those who hated those tactics, but because of them the Great Society Programs became a reality and resulted in an untold number of social programs.

Under the leadership of President Richard M. Nixon, affirmative action was born and Black businesses across this nation and in Pittsburgh were provided with genuine opportunities to share in the American Dream. Then came the Civil Rights Movement which swept across this nation. Even in the slow city of Pittsburgh we were able to position people such as Bob Anderson and Chuck Davis, to become contractors and many others to be subs. But it’s 2010, what happened?

Homegrown Black contractors are almost nonexistent. Ever since the passing of Mr. Hunt, only two Black contractors have built a major building. They are Irv Williams, owner of Ebony Construction [contract driven by Malik Bankston and board], who built the Kingsley Association, and Lou Waller & Son, who built Ebenezer Baptist Church [contract driven by Dr. J. Van Alfred Winsett and officers].

The question I asked originally was what happened to local Black contractors, but I know the answer. The simple answer is that we are not afforded the opportunities, because those in power don’t give a damn, never did and only responded to pressure, political, legal, financial, etc. Those individuals, whose jobs are to ensure that minorities, females, disadvantaged, etc. are limited, because they know full well that those who make the real decisions don’t care.

In the very near future I will reveal to the public how deceptive statistics are. For example, a report that I have in my possession indicates that minorities received 37 percent of a contract, but fails to explain the percentage is as a supplier, not contractor.

We understand that there are those who do not care, so we as a people must begin to care enough to make things happen, thereby there is no need to wait on someone else to address our problems.

The Kingsley Association still needs your financial help.

(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a weekly contributor to the Forum Page.)


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