Prophets Without Honor

The self-proclaimed ministers of capitalism have gotten a cool reception to their gospel in Dallas. But Chevis King Jr. and Joe Howard won't give up till they've found a better way to spend black people's money.

Howard and King point to Dothan, Alabama, as a measure of their success. The town of about 55,000 is situated amid farmland that has earned it the nickname "Peanut Capital of the World." Some 27 percent of the population is black.

Howard and King found their way into the airwaves of Dothan over a year ago, when a black-owned gospel station picked up their show--the only station among 200 they'd contacted that accepted it. For 10 months, the Howard/King Show occupied a premier time slot, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily. The duo talked about how to start a business, what problems plagued the black community, and how capitalism could straighten it all out.

And this time, people listened. James "J.R." Wilson, who owns the radio station, says ratings were excellent. The duo built up a large following doling out "powerful information." "I see the results," he says. "We have had a few more blacks who have spread their wings and went into business. I've seen the business climate improve."

One of those who launched a business was Annie Newby, a 47-year-old rental agent. She says she liked the idea of shopping at black-owned businesses and being her own boss. The message spurred her to start a few businesses of her own: a religious newspaper and a calendar company. "They have been a big inspiration to people in Dothan," Newby says.

Newby, whose husband is a minister, says she has no problem with Howard's and King's harsh attitudes toward the black church leadership. "The truth should hurt," she says. "If we don't have ministers telling us the truth, it's the blind leading the blind."

This past weekend, Dothan held its first "100 Black Men Coalition" conference that brought together budding entrepreneurs from all over the city. The event, organized by Wilson, was a direct result of the Howard/King Show, he says.

"I'm glad that there are other people out there who think the way I think," Wilson says. "We are finally starting to realize we have to depend upon ourselves rather than other sources."

The irony, though, is that Howard and King had to pull their show off the air in January in Dothan, because they could no longer afford the time slot.

Howard says now he knows how the Apostle Paul felt when he established a church in Corinth. He'll make a missionary journey to Dothan for the meeting, offering advice and encouragement. Yet his accomplishment is tinged with bitterness; they don't hear him in Dallas.

"I'm not going to get a love right away, but I just keep doing it," Howard says. "But we know that the majority of people feel like we do. They are ready for the truth."

While Howard and King's confidence at times borders on arrogance, they don't have the wild-eyed look of windmill-tilting dreamers. But even one of their ideological soulmates, New York's Elizabeth Wright, who publishes Issues & Views, another conservative, black-oriented publication, sees their optimism as misplaced. "I think that blacks have been so co-opted by affirmative action and liberals offering them a better deal in terms of getting an easier ride," she says. "I don't think that anytime in our lifetime are they going to turn their backs on that."

Wright is an embittered prophet; she has lost her faith in capitalism as the cure-all, and hopes to turn around just a few people. Her column appears regularly in the Black Economic Times. She assigns any hopes for the future to those who haven't lost their faith.

Howard and King say they're up to the task.
"Our message is America," King says. "Take the opportunity to compete in the open market. We believe we will prevail. And if we prevail, so will America.

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