Black History Month: Leaders in business and entrepreneurship

As we celebrate Black History Month, learn about some of history’s most influential African-American leaders in business and entrepreneurship.

KU School of Business
4 min readFeb 22, 2017
Annie Malone

Annie Malone

Annie Malone is the founder of Poro College. Poro College, founded in 1917 in St. Louis, is a commercial and educational business that specialized in African-American cosmetics. Malone created jobs for 75,000 women globally. In 1920, she was recorded as the first African-American female millionaire with a reported $14 million in assets.

Arthur Gaston

Arthur Gaston

Arthur Gaston established the Citizens Savings and Loan Association, the A.G. Gaston Construction Co., and CF Bancshares, a financial institution. Gaston was one of the richest African-American men in the United States throughout the 1960s. He was also a leading employer of African-Americans in Alabama.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington committed his life to advancing the educational and economic position of African-Americans. He authored 14 books, which are still read today. Washington built relationships with prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists, enabling him to forward large donations into initiatives and programs with the purpose of educating African-Americans. He was the founder of the National Negro Business League.

Clara Brown

Clara Brown

Clara Brown was an ex-slave that moved to Colorado during the gold rush in the late 1850s. She established a successful laundry business and used that money to invest in various real estate. Brown eventually owned 16 lots in Denver, seven houses in Central City, and other property and mines in Colorado.

Frank “Free Frank” McWorter

Frank McWorter

Frank McWorter, also known as “Free Frank,” was an American slave who eventually bought his own freedom. During the War of 1812, McWorter worked as a saltpeter manufacturer when saltpeter was in high demand. His success allowed him to buy his own freedom and freedom for 16 family members. “Free Frank” became the first African-American to found a town in the United States in 1836: New Philadelphia, Illinois.

Isaac Myers

Isaac Myers

Isaac Myers created one of the first African-American trade unions. After the Civil War, 1,000 ship caulkers lost employment, so Myers established these workers into a union: The Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society. Eventually, Myers was influential in creating the Colored National Labor Union in 1869.

John Johnson

John Johnson

John Johnson is the founder of Johnson Publishing Co., which up until June of 2016 published Ebony and Jet Magazines. Johnson used a $500 loan borrowed against his mother’s furniture to fund his initial venture. Johnson became the first African-American to appear on Forbes 400 in 1982. At one point, the Johnson Publishing Co. employs more than 2,600 people and has sales of roughly $400 million.

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker

Madam C.J. Walker established her own company, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing, which developed a special line of beauty and hair products for African-American women. She is one of the first African-American women to be a self-made millionaire.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker was the first African-American woman in the United States to charter a bank. She established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank by gathering her community’s money. She served as the bank’s first president. The bank later merged with two other Richmond, Virginia, banks to become The Consolidated Bank and Trust Co. of which Walker served as the chairman of the board of directors.

Paul Cuffee

Paul Cuffee

Paul Cuffee was a successful 18th century sea captain and businessman. He had all African-American crews that served the Atlantic Coast and sailed to Europe and Africa. He helped the British effort to resettle freed African-American slaves after the American Revolution.

Reginald Lewis

Reginald Lewis

Reginald Lewis is a graduate of Harvard Law School and was considered the richest African-American man throughout the 1980s. He founded the venture capital firm TLC Group LP in 1983. In 1987, he bought Beatrice International Foods. The grocery store conglomerate was the largest African-American-owned and managed business in the United States. The company became the first African-American-owned company with more than $1 billion in annual sales.

Source: Tech.Co,: 21 Most Successful Black Entrepreneurs Throughout History

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