Louis Hyman is a professor at the ILR School of Cornell University. He is also the director of the Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. He recently took to Twitter to school the general public on the incredible history behind a dying company.
The retailer Sears just filed for bankruptcy. It is facing a debt of more than $5 million.
Its downfall comes during the surge of retailers like Amazon and Walmart, as well as growing online business models.
The company will close the doors of 142 locations before the end of this year.
But Professor Louis Hyman shed light on Sears' very important past and how the store battled the racial divide during the Jim Crow Era.
In my history of consumption class, I teach about #Sears, but what most people don't know is just how radical the c… https://t.co/WnJ97yzZwb— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620844.0
Every time a black southerner went to the local store they were confronted with forced deference to white customers… https://t.co/8dmNVdgVEW— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620845.0
And the store would be filled with racist caricatures of black people in an effort to sell to white people. https://t.co/ylpMNjnITo— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620845.0
The stores were not self-service, so the black customers would have to wait. And then would have to ask the proprie… https://t.co/x75C3TSYqM— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620846.0
The catalog undid the power of the storekeeper, and by extension the landlord. Black families could buy without ask… https://t.co/6FeKEImatQ— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620846.0
Southern storekeepers fought back. They organized catalogue bonfires in the street.— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620847.0
These general stores often doubled as post offices. The owners would refuse to sell stamps to black people, or mone… https://t.co/Q6x4O40Bfv— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620847.0
Happened enough that sears instructed customers to evade the postmaster and directly speak to the mail carrier: “ju… https://t.co/GRjffbGRsH— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620847.0
In an attempt to undermine #Sears, rumors spread that Sears was black (to get white customers to stop buying from h… https://t.co/pFN5oibZct— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620848.0
These rumors didn’t affect sales but show how race and commerce connected in the countryside. And how dangerous it… https://t.co/q92WFN2tvR— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620848.0
So as we think about #Sears today, let's think about how retail is not just about buying things, but part of a larg… https://t.co/VSvn089BMr— Louis Hyman (@Louis Hyman)1539620848.0
Hyman's account discusses how Sears revolutionized the very racist shopping experience for the black community.
Their catalog allowed African Americans to shop freely for the first time. They also gave tips in their catalogs on how to bypass postage difficulties.
Hyman also chronicled how white store owners tried to thwart Sears.
In his final tweet, Hyman said,
So as we think about Sears today, let's think about how retail is not just about buying things, but part of a larger system of power. Every act of power contains the opportunity, and the means, for resistance.
This information about Sears' history was generally unknown, and people were grateful to hear it.
@louishyman Thanks so much for sharing this alot of folks weren’t aware of @Sears impact and for some in rural area… https://t.co/rP52Eeu2r1— MagnoliaGirl (@MagnoliaGirl)1539668927.0
@louishyman This explains a lot about why my grandmother(born in 1911) always had Sears catalogs and kept them fore… https://t.co/ECppGyAUVE— Seychelles_Green (@Seychelles_Green)1539650554.0
@louishyman wow. reminds me of how allotment lands (treaty lands) found their way into the hands of settlers here i… https://t.co/HWHfycykS1— Catherine H (@Catherine H)1539635706.0
@louishyman This is a fabulous thread.— Joe Nocera (@Joe Nocera)1539653912.0
@louishyman Thx for great thread.— Moira Stilwell (@Moira Stilwell)1539655719.0
@louishyman Wow! Thank you for sharing this, such an important aspect of our history...😊— Claire Serowinski (@Claire Serowinski)1539659604.0
@louishyman Wow, thank you so much for this thread. I was totally unaware of this history.— Kathrine Scott (@Kathrine Scott)1539667443.0
@louishyman This is POWERFUL. I've been wanting to restructure my business to make it more available to disadvanta… https://t.co/iLcSF1dQ5Q— Star Staubach (@Star Staubach)1539698277.0
@louishyman this changed my mental model of the world. thank you.— Jim Toepel (@Jim Toepel)1539712046.0
And given the new insight into Sears, people are sad to see it go.
@louishyman I was really really mad at sears last month for their horrible delivery service. And now after learning… https://t.co/lAsWDJW9BX— Cee Gee (@Cee Gee)1539651829.0
@louishyman Thx! I vaguely remember the catalogues when I was a kid, but never considered this perspective. Sad to see #Sears go.— Steve Cochrane (@Steve Cochrane)1539654671.0
What an incredible look into the systemic issues that have been plaguing the African American community for generations.