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Affirmative Action and Black Achievement

Posted under Collections by Robert Blythe

Collections volunteer Robert Blythe writes about Chicagoan Paul King Jr., a building contractor and social justice advocate, fifty years after the Coalition of United Community Action led a demonstration on July 22, 1969, demanding that building trade unions provide on-the-job trainee positions for minority groups.

Many Chicagoans were taken aback in July 1969 when two hundred demonstrators—including black ministers, community organizers, and members of the Almighty Black P. Stone Nation street gang—shut down a construction site in the Loop. The issues? The long-standing underrepresentation of African Americans in the construction trades and the hurdles faced by minority building contractors.


The Chicago Defender covered the demonstration. July 23, 1969.

A major player in this fight for greater opportunity was Paul King. King went on to found UBM, Inc., one the nation’s most successful African Americanowned general contracting firms. He leveraged this success to become a vocal national advocate of affirmative action and a promoter of expanded training, greater access to credit, and a decent chance for success for minority-owned firms. The Paul King papers at the Chicago History Museum document the activities of this social justice advocate.

Born in 1938 in Chicago, King attended De La Salle Institute, earned a BA from the University of Chicago, and took graduate courses at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Roosevelt University. His work as a house painter while putting himself through school led to his career in the construction business. King tirelessly championed measures to ensure that a portion of the contracts for public construction projects are awarded to minority-owned firms. As his career blossomed, King became an officer of the National Association of Minority Contractors. He developed a close relationship with Maryland congressman Parren Mitchell, working to ensure that minority-owned businesses got a fair shot at federal construction contracts.


The program from the 1975 NAMC annual convention, which King attended. ICH-i085667


King comments on Fullilove v. Klutznick, which affirmed lower court rulings that allowed federal funds to be earmarked for minority groups. ICHi-085667

Paul King always believed that social justice activism was entirely compatible with business success. He has written extensively and lectured widely on ways to overcome the legacy of discrimination and neglect endured by African Americans. King has organized college courses for minority business owners and hired ex-convicts in his business. His papers at CHM cover all aspects of his career as businessman, writer, and social reformer.


King (left) with Chicago mayor Eugene Sawyer, c. 1987. ICHi-085685

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