By Ryan Velez
We often have tense conversations on the role of “allies” for the Black community, those who aren’t Black but still want to help. Some see them as essential, while others believe they are serving their own needs rather than that of the community. StarTribune reports that a true ally in every sense of the word, H. Peter Meyerhoff, has passed away at the age of 92 from aspiration pneumonia, a complication of ataxia.
Meyerhoff was no stranger to racial strife, being a Jewish immigrant from Germany who barely escaped the rise of the Nazis. When he saw the violence that followed the wake of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, he saw time to take action.
“When he saw what was going on with black people, he could identify with that,” said his wife, Rose, last week. “In Germany, they had no Jews allowed in restaurants, parks, and schools. He didn’t want that kind of thing to go on here, ‘the land of the free.’ ” In 1968, soon after King was killed, Meyerhoff compiled a mimeographed directory of Black-owned businesses. He and his wife delivered the list to churches and homes in white neighborhoods, encouraging people to cross the racial divide.
“This was a problem he thought had to be solved,” Rose Meyerhoff said.
In time, this starter directory grew to become a 375-page book listing more than 5,200 minority-owned businesses in the United States. The original name was the National Black Business Campaign, but newspapers shortened it to “Buy Black” and it caught fire.
“The thing that made it work was that others [in the white community] felt the way we did,” Peter Meyerhoff told a Star Tribune reporter in 1987. “The people who joined in didn’t have to join organizations or do things differently except buy goods and services from a black-owned business, and that appealed to a sizable segment of the society.” At one point, Meyerhoff took a leave of absence from his job at Honeywell when he needed more time to get the national campaign going.
Will Shapira of Roseville, a close friend, said Peter Meyerhoff’s idea of improving the lives of Black Americans economically was unique to Minnesota at the time. “It’s a terrible loss,” Shapira said of Meyerhoff’s death. “He was a valued person in the community, he gave of himself, and he’s going to be missed in these racially turbulent and divided times.”