Marcus Alexis Dies at Age 77 - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

Alexis (Source: Evanston Photographic Studios)

Marcus Alexis, one of the nation’s most distinguished economists, died Wednesday due to complications during surgery.  He was 77.

According to friends and colleagues he thought of himself as a regular guy, but his legacy proves that he was far from ordinary. “There wasn’t anybody I ever spoke to who didn’t say how brilliant he was,” says Earl G. Graves Sr., who as a teenager met Alexis when they both worked for the Brooklyn Public Library.

Alexis taught at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois for 29 years. As a former chairman of the economics department and a professor emeritus at the Kellogg School of Management, Alexis was influential in encouraging minorities to consider economics as a profession. He played a central part in growing the numbers of minority faculty at Northwestern University according to Donald Jacobs, emeritus dean of Kellogg.

Despite his intellect, as an undergraduate Alexis dreaded a course in economics at Brooklyn College in the early 1950s. He went from dreading that course to becoming the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Minnesota in 1959. From there he went on to serve as commissioner, vice chairman and acting chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission under former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.

“We were proud and felt confident that we had a very capable person representing the interests of all citizens and African Americans in particular,” says Graves, chairman and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine. When Graves started the Black Enterprise Board of Economists, Alexis was one of the first people that came to mind. Alexis was a founding member of the BE Board. It was the first and only such board of a national business publication that was composed of African Americans who were former Federal Reserve governors, Nobel Prize laureates, presidential administration officials and other distinguished scholars. The board’s purpose was to make policy recommendations to correct the economic status of African Americans on a national and international basis. The board’s recommendations have been studied by the last five presidential administrations and government agencies.

“When he was not at a board meeting it was not as spirited,” Graves says.

In 1985, Alexis was appointed a director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and became chairman five years later. Despite his continual interest in areas of general economics and public service to his country, he was passionately concerned with the growth, equity, and income distributions for black people.

“While the welfare and economic progress of African Americans was his main concern, he was not narrowly focused on black economic development,” says Andrew Brimmer, who was appointed the first black governor of the Federal Reserve Board under John F. Kennedy and one of the founding members of the BE Board of Economists. Brimmer says that he was intently focused on national transportation and regulation of the airlines.

Margaret Simms, a fellow at Washington D.C.-based Urban Institute, says as a member of the BE Board of Economists, a group who often held different opinions about economic issues. Alexis always held the courage of his convictions.

“He used humor to deflect heat and helped keep our arguments from getting out of hand,” says Simms, also a member of the BE Board of Economists.

Marcus was an integral founding member and inaugural chair of the National Economics Association, an organization for black economists that formed after the American Economic Association neglected to feature black economists on its  annual program in 1969.

“Other black economists held him in extreme high esteem,” says William Spriggs, another BE Board of Economists member, and professor and chair for the department of economics at Howard University. “He was dedicated to training others, giving them the tools [to succeed], and mentoring people. He played a direct and important role in making sure we had black people in the field of economics.”

Alexis is survived by his wife Geraldine; daughter Hilary; two sons, Marcus Alexis II, and Sean Alexis; and three grandchildren. Visitation will occur June 5 from 4 p.m.-8 p.m. at The Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California. The funeral will be held at Mills College Chapel in Oakland June 6 at 10:30 am.

Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.