Oral Histories

Interview of Carl Dickerson

Owner of Dickerson Employee Benefits.
"Where Do We Go from Here?" Histories of Long-term Black Business Ownership, Community, and Family in Los Angeles County
African American History
Biographical Note:
Owner of Dickerson Employee Benefits.
Hester, Yolanda
Dickerson, Carl
Persons Present:
Dickerson and Hester.
Place Conducted:
Dickerson’s office.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Yolanda Hester, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; M.A., African American studies, UCLA.Hester prepared for the interview in this series by looking at a number of books and articles that examined Black business ownership in a historical context, as well as articles that examined it from a social science perspective and looked at current socioeconomic debates and findings. For the Dickerson interview, she also read a number of articles about Dickerson and his company in local, national, and trade publications, including the Los Angeles Sentinel, the Los Angeles Times, Black Enterprise and the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Dickerson was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
7.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
This series documents long-term and multigenerational business ownership in the black community through oral history interviews with owners of businesses located in Los Angeles County. The title is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community, which focused on economic issues, including issues related to black-owned businesses.Businesses were chosen to participate in the series based on two criteria: that the business had been in operation for at least twenty-five years and that it was currently active at the time of the interview. An effort was also made to ensure that the businesses selected represented a variety of sizes and industries. They range from small, local businesses with only a couple of employees to enterprises that have a regional and even national reach, and the industries represented include construction, real estate, insurance, communications, dry cleaning, restaurants and catering, mortuaries, barbershops, and stove repair. Due to limited resources and time constraints, the interviews focused primarily on businesses in the Pasadena area and in South Los Angeles, with selected businesses in Hollywood, Gardena, and downtown Los Angeles as well. South Los Angeles remains one of the most important centers of Black economic activity in the region, and the Pasadena area has historically been a final stop for many Blacks who migrated to Southern California. It is also important to note that although the series focused mostly on these two areas, the reach and customer base of these businesses span well beyond their local communities.The first section of each oral history covers the individual’s family and migration history. The second and third sections then examine each business from two perspectives: (1) the day-to-day functioning of the business, i.e., staffing, profit and losses, marketing, etc., and (2) broader businesses strategies, including responses to policy changes, technological development, demographic shifts, and changes in the economy. For reasons that included scheduling, health, and capacity issues, some of the business owners who were invited to be interviewed declined. Those businesses included Eso Won Books, Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, Pete’s Foods Products, Winmax Construction Corporation, Beauchamp Distributing Company, and Gallery Plus.The UCLA Center for Oral History Research has also created a website that offers more context about black businesses in Los Angeles and includes numerous audio clips from this interview series. See https://www.library.ucla.edu/community-commerce-oral-histories-african-american-businesses-los-angeles
Birth—Family home—Father’s background—Young Christians of Allegheny County—Earning money—Working for a local shop owner who was a Jewish émigré —Mother’s background—Philanthropic activities—Childhood home—Religion—Discovering Uncle Bill’s sexual orientation—The world of gambling.
Childhood jobs—Saving money—Shoe shine business—Selling newspapers—-Owned businesses in Duquesne, Pennsylvania—Real estate—More on working for the Jewish émigré shop owner and learning about the Holocaust from him.
Father’s involvement in the Steel Workers Union—Union activity—Attending college—Post-graduation jobs—Road trip to Alaska—Denied a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa—Racism in Las Vegas—Living in Berkeley, California—Working in academia—Moving to Los Angeles—Getting a job in the insurance business—Managing the band Shango and the entertainment business—Starting his insurance business in 1972.
A brief stint in the dry-cleaning business—Marries in 1964—Interracial unions—Insurance business and honing selling techniques—Shifting to health insurance—Purchasing property in Echo Park and starting a business—Working with ethnic markets—Staffing—Expansion—Meets the consul general of China—L.A Riots.
Expense in the insurance business—Insurance as a financial tool—Building relationships is key—International projects—The Affordable Care Act—Policy changes and the history of health insurance—Workers’ compensation—Technology—Succession—Advice to younger self—Significance of Black business ownership.