Berkeley Graham Burrell
National Business League
Booker T. Washington Foundation
Berkeley Graham Burrell was born in 1919 in a small house in Northwest Washington, not far from where, several decades later, he would locate the Booker T. Washington Foundation. Educated in Washington schools, he attended Howard University and was pressed into service as World War II began. Returning from war, he was dedicated to never working for anyone else again.
He used to say that he “stumbled into the dry cleaning business” with his wife A. Parthenia, but the “stumbling” act produced a thriving establishment that was a landmark on Georgia Avenue and the foundation for other future profitable enterprises.
In 1962, he became president of the National Business League, the nation’s oldest business organization, founded by Booker T. Washington. Working from the back of his cleaning establishment, Mr. Burrell transformed NBL into a nationally recognized advocate for minority business development. Under its auspices, he convened the National Council for Policy Review, a coalition of more than 50 minority business, professional and trade organizations.
Mr. Burrell founded the Booker T. Washington Foundation, a public operation foundation with a highly interrelated set of programs in telecommunications, public policy research, science and technology and research development. He also founded the Council of Small and Independent Business Association as one of several forums to ensure minority participation in business making processes.
He was constant in his commitment to unity among black leaders and organizations and helped to form the Black Leadership Forum. Although an advisor to six U.S. presidents: Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter, he remained a champion of the “little people.” He persistently called for increased minority participation in the nation’s economic mainstream based on his compassion for the elderly, the poor, those on fixed incomes and the millions of minority Americans excluded from the benefits and resources of this country.
In his speech at the Diamond Anniversary of the National Business League in 1975, Mr. Burrell said, “I say to America, as this nation embarks on the multi-billion dollar revitalization of the nation’s railroads, as we begin to contemplate the billions to be spent on revitalizing our centers of commerce, as we continue to spend billions through our Defense Department each year, I repeat: This nation can no longer afford this heavy drain on its wealth, its productivity, its growth, its potential national competence, indeed its world leadership as the price for excluding minorities.”
Mr. Burrell passed in 1979.