Operation Breadbasket was an organization dedicated to improving the economic conditions of black communities across the United States of America.
Operation Breadbasket was founded as a department of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1962, and was operated by Rev. Fred C. Bennette of Atlanta. The first activities were in Atlanta and other Southern cities.
A key figure in the later history of Operation Breadbasket was Jesse Jackson. In 1964, Jackson left his native South Carolina to study at the Chicago Theological Seminary. He participated in SCLC’s movement in Selma. Although Martin Luther King, Jr., SCLC’s president, was suspicious of Jackson’s personal ambition, the group gradually gave him greater responsibilities. When Jackson returned from Selma, he threw himself into SCLC’s effort to establish a beachhead in Chicago.
In 1966, SCLC selected Jackson to be head of the Chicago chapter of its Operation Breadbasket. Influenced by the example of Rev. Leon H. Sullivan in Philadelphia, a key goal of the organization was to foster “selective buying” (boycotts) as a means to pressure white businesses to hire blacks and purchase goods and services from black contractors. Sullivan’s plan was not without its predecessors. One was Dr. T.R.M. Howard, a wealthy doctor and community leader on the South Side and key financial contributor to Operation Breadbasket. Before he moved from Mississippi to Chicago, Howard had developed a national reputation as a civil rights leader, surgeon, and entrepreneur.
Excerpts from The Autobiography Of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The most spectacularly successful program in Chicago was Operation Breadbasket. Operation Breadbasket had a very simple program but a powerful one: “If you respect my dollar, you must ‘P respect my person.” The philosophical undergirding of Operation :; Breadbasket rested in the belief that many retail business and consumer goods industries depleted the ghetto by selling to Negroes without returning to the community any of the profits through fair hiring practices. To reverse this pattern Operation Breadbasket committees selected a target industry, then obtained the employment statistics of individual companies within it. If the proportion of Negro employees was unsatisfactory, or if they were confined to the menial jobs, the company was approached to negotiate a more equitable employment practice. Leverage was applied where necessary through selective buying campaigns organized by the clergymen through their congregations and through the movement. They simply said, “We will no longer spend our money where we cannot get substantial jobs.”
By 1967 SCLC had Operation Breadbasket functioning in some twelve cities, and the results were remarkable. In Chicago, Operation Breadbasket successfully completed negotiations with three major industries: milk, soft drinks, and chain grocery stores. Four of the companies involved concluded reasonable agreements only after short “don’t buy” campaigns. Seven other companies were able to make the requested changes across the conference table, without necessitating a boycott. Two other companies, after providing their employment information to the ministers, were sent letters of commendation for their healthy equal-employment practices. The net results added up to approximately eight hundred new and upgraded jobs for Negro employees, worth a little over $7 million in new annual income for Negro families. We added a new dimension to Operation Breadbasket. Along with requesting new job opportunities, we requested that businesses with stores in the ghetto deposit the income for those establishments in Negro-owned banks, and that Negro-owned products be placed on the counters of all their stores.