Before he enrolled at the University of Georgia, or pursued his Ph.D. in economics, or helped to document redlining by U.S. creditors, Harold Black’s father had a saying that became a personal and professional guidepost Black could bank on.
“Conventional wisdom is seldom wise. It’s just convenient.”
Black, a professor emeritus at the University of Tennessee, was the first Black student to enroll and graduate from the Terry College of Business and only the fourth to attend UGA. It was 1962, he was 17 and he was driven, in part, by a strong desire to disrupt the segregated educational system.
Looking back, the grit, perseverance and friendships that got him through four turbulent years at UGA shaped his worldview and his career path, he told students gathered to hear his Terry Leadership Speaker Series talk on Feb. 9.
“I had wonderful professors. I received a wonderful education here, and I defy anyone to have had a better college experience — even in those days,” he said.
He challenged audience members to find their muse and then find the courage to follow it. Doing the hard things makes you smarter, stronger and most of all it makes you happy with yourself, he said.
During his career, Black taught at the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina, Howard University and American University, culminating at the University of Tennessee. His early research focused on monetary policy. He later focused on the relationship between banks and their customers, how race impacted these relationships and the outcomes those relationships helped foster.
Despite being discouraged from looking into lending practices for possible discrimination early in his career, he was undeterred and documented evidence of redlining while working for the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency. The findings supported new federal fair lending regulations to prohibit lenders from discriminating in credit transactions.
Finding the solutions to the problems that you see in the world isn’t always easy and it’s not necessarily going to make you popular, he told students. “Use the tools you have acquired here at Terry, especially microeconomics, to address the problems of today.”
“The question is: If you come up with viable solutions and those viable solutions are different from what the fashionable solution is, will you have the courage to pursue it?” he said. “You have to decide what’s right and how you will make events change. In a sense, you have to become a leader.”
In addition to speaking at the Terry Leadership Speaker Series, Black was one of four Terry alumni honored by the college on Feb. 9 as Terry Trailblazers. Terry Trailblazers are graduates who achieved career success while making a meaningful impact on their organizations and communities.