The Sears Catalog Helped African Americans Shop Under Jim Crow

1902 Sears Catalog
Screenshot: AP

On Monday, Sears filed for bankruptcy after 132 years of operation, spurring a wave of eulogies and sometimes outright sentimentalizing for the company that got its start as the R.W. Sears Watch Co. in Minneapolis and grew to become an iconic retail giant through its innovative catalog.

Prompted by the news, Professor Louis Hyman of Cornell University, a labor historian and author of Temp: How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary, outlined a surprising piece of American history in a fascinating Twitter thread. Through the creation of its national catalog available to all Americans, and by allowing consumers to buy on credit, Sears revolutionized the way black Americans could shop by offering access without the threat of…

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