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Monthly with Mosley: The Sears Catalog Changed the Way Black Americans Purchased Goods in the Jim Crow South | WUWM 89.7 FM

It’s time for our monthly chat with Mosley. Judge Derek Mosley is a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Milwaukee, who will soon become the director of the Lubar Center at Marquette Law School.

Each month he joins lake effect to share restaurant recommendations, unpack our legal system, and share his personal research on black history.

The holiday season is slowly approaching and in the not so distant past, before the rise of online shopping, the beloved Sears catalog would have appeared on our doorstep. In the late 1800sthe catalog changed the way Americans bought things, giving new freedom to get what was not available at the local general store.

And at the same time, it created a new, equal shopping experience for black Americans in the Jim Crow South. Justice Mosley explains that general store owners prioritized white customers during this time. And it was only after those customers left that black shoppers would be helped.

“So to be honest, shopping was stressful in the sense that it could take hours to shop and you weren’t always offered the best items,” Mosley says.

Judge Derek Mosley

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Judge Derek Mosley

You can buy anything from underwear to even a stovetop in the Sears Roebuck catalog. Pictured is a reproduction of a catalog.

When the Sears catalog was released, the shopping experience for black Americans changed forever. Anyone could buy anything from underwear to houses, and all you had to do was submit a mail order to get your purchase. And without even knowing it, this new shopping experience has even created a new musical genre.

“Sears made it available to African American musicians to get their hands on cheap steel, guitars, tambourines and harmonicas,” says Mosley. “And so these things get sent to places like the Mississippi Delta. And they were creating this wonderful music that took on that name, The Mississippi Delta Blues.”

It was an unintentional coincidence that the Sears catalog created an equal shopping experience for black Americans, but they fed off of it to make it easier.

“[The Sears Catalog] not just for the dignity of African American shoppers, but also to try to make, you know, the things that we buy and sell, equal for everyone,” Mosley says.

Monthly with Mosley features Judge Derek Mosley. He joins Lake Effect monthly to share restaurant recommendations, unpack our legal system, and share his personal research on black history. Judge Derek Mosley serves as a municipal court judge for the City of Milwaukee for his day job, and he is also known as one of Milwaukee’s food influencers.