Black Pride Beer: A beer as proud as its people

Sometimes research uncovers slices of history that don't necessarily fit the School 18 Project mission but it deserves to be told. This is one of them.

Black Pride Beer launched in 1969 in Southside Chicago, IL. Operated by Black Pride, Inc. It was not only a beer label but a concept to increase economic opportunities for Blacks.

According to Brewers Digest magazine(archives), the company started with 75 stockholders who donated $1,000 each with additional stock offered for sale to the public. These investors were all Black, which was an important element to get Blacks to support the initiative.

blackpridebeer.jpg

Black Pride, Inc was conceived by Edward J. McClellan who at the time was a key member of the NAACP’s southside branch. McClellan was also a military veteran and a member of the Chicago Police force. He was definitely a man of influence.

Although Black Pride’s aim was to own and operate its own brewery in the future, it launched as a licensee with a distributorship for their brand of beer - Black Pride. This was granted by West Bend Lithia Company. West Bend had contracted with Black Pride to manufacture 20,000 barrels of beer annually for its flagship product, as well as provide Black Pride the opportunity to distribute West Bend’s own beer. Black Pride was a premium beer and priced and marketed accordingly. The company also had plans for franchises.

The package design featured black and gold lettering, a lion as the logo to symbolize African History, and bore the slogan, “A beer as proud as its people”.

McClellan had a difficult time finding a brewery that would make the beer but later settled on West Bend Lithia, who he says was like Branch Rickey when the doors swung open to Jackie Robinson. In an article from 1969’s Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper, McClellan said: "Nobody will ever forget Jackie Robinson. But a lot of people forget that without Branch Rickey, there would have been no Jackie Robinson.”

Why Beer? McClellan and BPI’s management thought beer would be an economically viable product because Blacks drank a lot of beer. Additionally, it was a cash business that would not have needed money tied up into product inventory.

However, the competition for beer was stiff. BPI depended heavily on its licensor to keep its beer in stores. In 1972, facing unresolved financial issues, the West Bend Lithia company stopped brewing, and as a result it ended the brewing of Black Pride Beer as well. Lithia Beer was popular for decades in Milwaukee. Its closing was not only a lost to BPI but to the local economy.

(Side note, further research may or may not reveal that this initiative was born out of the 68 Riots. Many Blacks pushed for Black owned/operated stores in their neighborhoods and there were some efforts, both public and private, that worked to accommodate their goals.)