From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs

Historic DeKalb Courthouse

Sunday, 5:00-5:45

In the 1960s and '70s, a diverse range of storefronts--including head shops, African American bookstores, feminist businesses, and organic grocers--brought the work of the New Left, Black Power, feminism, environmentalism, and other movements into the marketplace. Through shared ownership, limited growth, and democratic workplaces, these activist entrepreneurs offered alternatives to conventional profit-driven corporate business models. By the middle of the 1970s, thousands of these enterprises operated across the United States--but only a handful survive today. Some, such as Whole Foods Market, have abandoned their quest for collective political change in favor of maximizing profits. Joshua Clark Davis uncovers the historical roots of contemporary interest in ethical consumption, social enterprise, buying local, and mission-driven business, while also showing how today's companies have adopted the language--but not often the mission--of liberation and social change.


Joshua C. Davis

Josh Davis is the author of From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs. Josh is a native of Decatur, a proud graduate of Decatur High School, and an assistant professor of history at the University of Baltimore. Josh's writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Slate, and Black Perspectives.

Follow Josh on Twitter.


Brett Gadsden

Brett Gadsden is Associate Professor of History at Northwestern University. He specializes in 20th century American and African American history, with a specific focus on black political and social history, black freedom struggles, and racial discrimination, segregation, and inequality. He is currently working on his second book, titled From Protest to Politics: The Making of a "Second Black Cabinet," which explores the set of historical circumstances that brought African Americans into close consultative relationships with presidential candidates and later into key cabinet, sub-cabinet, and other important administrative positions in the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations and opened to them unprecedented access to centers of power in the federal government. The rise of these figures to prominence marked the beginnings of modern African American executive authority in modern U.S. history. He lives in Evanston, IL with his wife and dog.