The newspapers heralded the fact that Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the basketball wizard of the Philadelphia 76ers, and a partner, J. Bruce Llewellyn, had bought the Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
There were proud announcements that this would be the first black-owned Coca- Cola bottler in the United States and the fourth largest black-owned business in the nation, with sales exceeding $100 million a year.
Pardon me if I don't jump for joy. It is a blooming outrage that, with black people downing a zillion Cokes a year, only at the end of 1985 does a black person get to become a bottler!
This little Coca-Cola story tells us some tragic things about why black family income is only 56 percent of white family income; why black unemployment is well over double the white rate of joblessness; why blacks are so heavily dependent on welfare, food stamps, Medicaid and other federal government programs.
Richard Nixon made glowing promises to give blacks "a piece of the action" in American business, and other presidents, Democrats and Republicans, have promised that private entrepreneurship would lift blacks to equality. But blacks have had one hell of a time getting a piece of the action.
The Census Bureau reported recently that there were 339,239 black businesses in the United States in 1982, a 47 percent increase over 1977, a laudable gain. But almost half these black-owned businesses had less than $5,000 in receipts for the year.
The Census Bureau found only 136 black firms with more than 100 employees!
Black Enterprise magazine produced figures for 1984 showing that only two black- owned companies had more than 1,000 employees.
Black Enterprise reported that the combined sales of the biggest 100 black-owned companies in America would fall below the sales of the 145th white company on the Fortune 500 list.
Blacks have complained bitterly that while they drink a lot of soda pop, beer, and booze; buy lots of cars, including luxury ones; shell out for clothing, food, furniture and toys, they can't get a piece of the action in building and selling such commodities.
It is remarkable that of the 100 top firms on the Black Enterprise list, 44 are automobile dealerships. Remarkable because General Motors has only 93 black dealerships out of 10,450, or .89 percent; Chrysler has only 39 black dealers out of 4,000, or .97 percent, and Ford has 110 black dealers out of 5,500, or 2 percent.
When the Big Three in the industry with the best record of giving blacks a meaningful piece of the pie have limited blacks to a combined 1.2 percent of the dealerships, you see how far the rest of American industry has to go.
Dr. J's entry into the cola bottling business is welcome, but it is not exactly a socio-economic slam dunk that should cause us to leap into a rash of high-fives.