Encyclopedia Of Detroit

National Black Economic Development Conference

The National Black Economic Development Conference took place in Detroit from April 25-27, 1969. The conference was organized by African American clergymen and business people in conjunction with interfaith social justice advocates to develop strategies for Black economic autonomy. James Forman, an author and 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.” It called for reparations to African Americans for slavery. Forman demanded that both White churches and White synagogues pay $500 million in total to support Black companies and institutions, including a land bank and a publishing company, for their complicity in racism.

The conference initially adopted the manifesto, but later began to distance itself from Forman when he began to disrupt and protest at church 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 in New York City alone.