American Black Upper Class

The American Black Upper Class consists of African American professionals in fields such as law, medicine, business and entertainment that have incomes that amount to $100,000 or more. [ Lacy, K. (2007). Blue-chip Black: race, class, and status in the new Black middle class. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Pg. 41 ] This class, sometimes referred to as the black upper-middle class or the black elite, makes up 1 percent of the total black population in the United States. [ Lacy, K. (2007). Blue-chip Black: race, class, and status in the new Black middle class. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Pg. 4 ] The N.Y. Times article on the book features Peter Adams II ,the article titled, "Is There a Black Upper Class?" Adams is quite possibly the epitome of Black Prep. [ http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C00E3DA143FF934A35750C0A96F958260&scp=1&sq=is%20there%20a%20black%20upper%20class&st=cse] The group of African Americans has a history of organizations and activities that distinguish it from other classes within the black community as well as the white upper class. Many of these traditions, which have persisted for several generations, are outlined in Lawrence Otis Graham’s 2000 book, "Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class".

Historical Background

Not long after Africans were brought to the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries and sold into slavery, nonconsensual sexual relations (i.e. rape) took place between the slave owners and enslaved Africans. The biracial offspring, sometimes referred to as mulattoes, were sometimes not enslaved by their white slave-holding fathers, and made up a large part of the free black population in the American South [ Frazier, E (1997). Black Bourgeoisie. New York, NY: Free Press Paperbacks. Pg. 14 ] . In addition to this group, a huge number of Africans escaped to freedom during the instability of the American Revolution. Others were manumitted by their enslavers. This ultimately, increased the free black community considerably by 1800. Although most of these free people were very poor, some were able to acquire land to farm for themselves, or learn mechanical or artistic trades [ Frazier, E (1997). Black Bourgeoisie. New York, NY: Free Press Paperbacks.Pg. 14 ] .

Others worked in domestic fields and some free blacks in the North were able to own newspapers and small businesses [ Frazier, E (1997). Black Bourgeoisie. New York, NY: Free Press Paperbacks. Pg. 33 ] . These families were able to get a head-start on their black counterparts who were still enslaved by their inaccessibility to wealth accumulation, particularly when it came to owning their own land [ Frazier, E (1997). Black Bourgeoisie. New York, NY: Free Press Paperbacks. Pg.30 ] .

History of College Education

During the American Civil War in the 1860s, organizations like the American Missionary Association, which had sponsored elementary schools for Southern blacks, established some of the first historically black colleges and universities such as Fisk University, Hampton Institute and Tougaloo College [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 9 ] . Those who attended these schools as well as other black colleges like Howard University, Morehouse College and Spelman College, which all opened by the 1880s, were able to learn trades and skills that put them in a distinctly different class [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 10 ] .

In many cases, several generations within these families have attended schools such as Howard, Fisk, Morehouse and Spelman. While today there are well over one hundred historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's) across the country, these first few institutions have consistently been the favorites for upper-class blacks who chose to attend HBCU's [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 10 ] .

Following integration the majority of the black upper class have attended predominantly white colleges and universities. [http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/04/19/hbcu]

The movement of upper class blacks to predominantly white institutions that researchers note may be because "in the first time period covered by the scholars, black colleges were attracting significant numbers of students from professional, middle class black families. These are now the students who are cherry-picked by highly selective, prestigious institutions that weren’t looking for them in the 1970s", said Michael L. Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund. [http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/04/19/hbcu] A small number of free blacks during the 19th century were also admitted into private, predominately white institutions such as Harvard, Amherst and Oberlin College [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 10 ] .

Greek Organizations

In 1904 Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity was established as the first greek-letter society for African Americans. Within the decade undergraduate college students established fraternities and sororities as small, selective social groups that later developed an emphasis on scholarship and social activism. Today, there are a total of nine historically black sororities and fraternities that make up the National Pan-Hellenic Council, sometimes referred to as the “Divine Nine.” All are held with high esteem within the black upper class. These include Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.(1906), Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.(1908), Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc .(1911), Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.(1911), and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.(1913) and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc (1914),Zeta Phi Beta (1920), Sigma Gamma Rho (1922), and Iota Phi Theta (1963). Some argue that historically black Greek organizations differ from those that are traditionally all-white because of their importance to blacks long after they have left their respective colleges and universities [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 85 ] . Graham said in his book, "Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class", that these sororities and fraternities “are a lasting identity, a circle of lifetime friends, a base for future political and civic activism” [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 85 ] .

Social and Family Organizations

Over the years, the black upper class has also founded numerous other organizations that allow them to socialize among each other, build their networks and get involved in their communities.

One of the most notable is Jack and Jill of America, Inc., an organization founded in 1938 by a group of upper-class women who wanted to bring their children together to have a variety of educational, social and cultural experiences [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 22 ] . Today, there are around 218 chapters across the United States and the world, and about 30,000 parents and children who are members [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 22 ] . The group is invitation-only.

Women in the black upper class are often members of groups such as the Links, Girl Friends, the Drifters, the Hillbillies and the National Smart Set. The Links, founded in 1946, requires that each of its members accumulate a substantial number of volunteer hours, and is also known for its numerous annual social activities including debutante cotillions, fashion show luncheons, auctions and balls [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 103 ] . Women interested in joining any of the local chapters must be nominated by a current member [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 109 ] . Most members are philanthropists, college presidents, judges, doctors, bankers, lawyers, executives, educators or the wives of well-known public figures [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 105 ] . There are currently about 12,000 members in 273 chapters in 42 states [ About the Links, Inc. Retrieved April 17, 2008, from The Links, Incorporated Web site: http://www.linksinc.org/about.shtml ] . Girl Friends, Inc., was founded in 1927 in New York City. The group, composed of many individuals from well-respected black upper class families, has many philanthropic and cultural activities that include raising money for charities and also sponsors social activities for its members [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 117 ] . It includes about 40 chapters in major American cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 117 ] . There are around 1,300 members. Women are admitted after being nominated by at least two existing members and then approved by at least two-thirds of that particular chapter. There are also a few organizations founded specifically for upper class black men. Some of these include the Sigma Pi Phi Boule, the Comus Social Cub, the Reveille Cub and One Hundred Black Men [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 128 ] . The Boule, the first national club for upper class black men, was founded in 1904 and is reserved for men who are long past college and graduate school [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 130 ] . At the time of its conception, it was intended to be “an organization that would provide a vehicle for men of standing and like tastes to come together to know the best of one another” [ History of the Boule. Retrieved April 6, 2008, from Sigma Pi Phi Web site: http://www.sigmapiphi.org/home/history_of_the_boule.php ] . Members are accepted at the national level on the basis of their professional accomplishments. All the members of the fraternity are generally expected to wear black-tie attire to all social and official activities [ Graham, L. (2000). Our Kind of People: inside America's Black upper class. New York, NY: HarperPerennial. Pg. 130 ] .

Home Ownership Rates

It is estimated that 80 percent of upper class blacks own their own homes [ Lacy, K. (2007). Blue-chip Black: race, class, and status in the new Black middle class. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Pg. 37 ] . This is compared to 66 percent of those earning more than $50,000 and 52 percent of those who earn between $30,000 and $49,999 in income [ Lacy, K. (2007). Blue-chip Black: race, class, and status in the new Black middle class. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Pg. 37 ] .

References


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