Black History: Special Delivery!!
Operation Breadbasket was launched in 1962 by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., stated, “The fundamental premise of Breadbasket is a simple one. Negroes need not patronize a business which denies them jobs, or advancement or plain courtesy…..Many retail businesses and consumer goods industries deplete the ghetto by selling to Negroes without returning to the community any profits through fair hiring practices”. Operation Breadbasket’s first leader was Fred Bennette.
Operation Breadbasket was fashioned after a “selective patronage” program in Philadelphia that was developed by Leon Sullivan. Breadbasket leveraged the support of local clergy and the strength of the African American church to help foster economic opportunities in the black community. The group thoroughly investigated employment data for businesses and industries who sold goods and services within the black community. If the data vetted that blacks were under-represented in hiring or relegated to only menial jobs, Operation Breadbasket clergy would attempt to negotiate with companies to improve their hiring practices and treatment of black employees. Product and business boycotts would be encouraged against companies who failed to change discriminatory practices. Operation Breadbasket efforts were highly successful in Atlanta. By 1967, $25 million had been infused into the black community as a result of Operation Breadbasket efforts.
In 1966, Operation Breadbasket launched a campaign in Chicago. Dr. King called the Chicago Campaign the SCLC’s “most spectacularly successful program” in Chicago. The Chicago Campaign was led by Jesse Jackson. Jackson led the effort to target 5 businesses in the dairy industry. 3 of the 5 companies immediately began to negotiate and began to employ more blacks within their businesses. The remaining 2 only complied once they had been boycotted. After the dairy industry, Chicago Operation Breadbasket targeted Pepsi and Coke, and then grocery store chains. These efforts garnered 2,000 new jobs, bringing $15 million of new income during its first 15 months of operation. Chicago’s Operation Breadbasket also held weekend workshops that drew thousands to hear Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jesse Jackson became the national director of Operation Breadbasket in 1967. He continued to lead the organization after the assassination of Dr. King in 1968. However, the relationship between Jackson and SCLC’s new leader, Ralph Abernathy was very strained. The two had some serious disagreements regarding fundraising as well as other operational issues. In December 1971, Jackson resigned from SCLC . A week later, he started his own organization focused on economic empowerment, “Operation PUSH (People United To Save Humanity). Operation Breadbasket continued to struggle and eventually folded in 1972.