Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Black Economic Development Conference

The Black Economic Development Conference took place in Detroit from April 25-27, 1969. The conference was organized by African American clergymen and businesspeople who had received money from black caucuses in predominantly white Christian denominations.

James Forman, an author, and an American Civil Rights leader active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and the International Black Workers Congress, presented at the conference his famous “Black Manifesto,” which called for reparations to African Americans for slavery. Forman demanded that both white churches and white synagogues pay $500 million in total in order to support black companies and institutions, such as a land bank and a publishing company, for their complicity in racism.

The conference initially adopted his manifesto, but later on began to distance itself from James Forman when he began to protest churches and interrupt services. Furthermore, many prominent black organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Baptist Convention, also distanced themselves from the call for reparations and urged that money be given to them for related purposes instead. Nevertheless, some predominantly white churches expressed sympathy with the aims of the manifesto but primarily increased aid to existing or new programs of their own rather than providing money for the reparations fund. Forman's call did raise about half a million dollars, about $200,000 of which came from Riverside Church alone.