The JAX Chamber Foundation introduced Dec. 16 the Lewis and White Business League, a forum and program intended to improve economic opportunity for African Americans in Jacksonville.
The league will include connections to business and educational advancement, quarterly meetings with guest speakers, and networking and mentoring opportunities, said a news release from the chamber.
The initiative is named in honor of A.L. Lewis and Eartha White, African American business leaders in Jacksonville and charter members of the National Negro Business League. The league was founded in 1900 by Booker T. Washington to advance the economic conditions of African Americans.
“We listened to African American business and community leaders to hear how they thought the Chamber could make a difference addressing racial inequities that sadly still exist in our community and the idea of a network like this came up several times,” JAX Chamber President and CEO Daniel Davis said in the release.
“This is one step in the Chamber’s efforts to ensure that everyone in our community has the opportunity to succeed.”
Lewis moved to Jacksonville in 1880 at age 15, working at a sawmill to help support his family. He worked his way up and was able to save enough money to invest in the first African American-owned shoe store.
In 1901, Lewis was one of seven founders of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company, which offered affordable insurance and was the only option for African Americans. He became president of the company in 1919. He also founded Lincoln Golf and Country Club, the only Black country club in Jacksonville, and purchased oceanfront property in Nassau County that became American Beach. The A.L. Lewis Community Center in Northwest Jacksonville is named after him.
White was born in Jacksonville and graduated from Stanton School (now Stanton College Preparatory School) in 1893.
After moving to New York and touring with the Oriental American Opera Company, the first African American opera company in the U.S., she returned to Jacksonville and studied to be a teacher. She built the first public school for African American children in Jacksonville and taught there and at Stanton.
White was a successful entrepreneur, becoming a licensed real estate broker and managing a dry goods store, a steam laundry and a taxi company. She donated her wealth to a variety of causes and in 1901 started the Clara White Mission with her mother to feed the homeless and the hungry in Downtown Jacksonville.
“The Lewis and White Business League is an important step in rebuilding economic strength and legacy in the African American community,” said City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, president and CEO of the Clara White Mission, in the release.
Jacksonville developer Carlton Jones has served as president of the chamber’s former Northwest Jacksonville Council and worked with the National Business League when he was president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
“The Chamber’s focus on economic development in the African American community can have incredible impact on our entire community. I look forward to being a part of the Lewis and White Business League and seeing where it goes from here,” Jones said in the release.
The Lewis and White Business League will be part of the JAX Chamber Foundation. The group’s inaugural events are being planned for the first quarter of 2021.