The son of the first African-American to control a seat on New York Stock Exchange undertakes a history of blacks on Wall Street.
The WASP echelons of the securities industries were slow to come into the 20th century. But finally, after the Irish and the Jews, African-Americans were admitted to the magic place where you got cash simply for the exchange of paper. Bell, whose father founded the now-defunct firm Daniels & Bell Inc. in 1971, begins the story of the industry’s democratization in the 1960s, when three black men worked amid Merrill Lynch's more than 2,500 brokers. Progress was sometimes impeded by such expected institutions as the regulatory agencies (bane of brokers white and black) and unexpected ones like CORE, which feared Wall Street firms would drain cash from Harlem. But aided by evolving federal public policy and to a surprising extent the assistance of many who themselves had been admitted to the club not long before, African-Americans learned to master the games perfected by others. Black brokers became black investment bankers. Struggling minority firms were promoted in the ’70s and ’80s by major cities’ newly elected African-American mayors, who insisted on black managers for new municipal bond issues. Although Bell frequently alludes to problems with securities laws and regulations, which seem to have been common, he does not elaborate on them. (For example, he seems not to notice that one firm apparently paid commissions to salespeople who were not registered representatives.) As the tale becomes more checkered, the author warms a bit to the details, though the drama is largely related deadpan. With just a nod to the inevitable legal and personality problems, this reads much like a commissioned corporate history. Still, the tale of the energetic, bright young heroes who went where no blacks had gone before is inherently powerful and important.
Credible, if sometimes bland.