February 27, 2024

Left to right: Madame C. J. Walker, Paul Cuffee, Annie Malone, Charles Clinton Spaulding

Left to right: Madame C. J. Walker, Paul Cuffee, Annie Malone, Charles Clinton Spaulding
Graphic: Laura Bratton, Photos: National Museum of African American History and Culture, North Carolina Office of Archives and History, Illustration: African American Registry

There’s tons of resources detailing the histories of Black entrepreneurs throughout history. A few among them:

Paul Cuffee (1759-1817): With his older brother in law, he established a shipping business in the late 1700s. Cuffee became one of the richest people of color in the country and used his earnings to help create a smallpox hospital, an integrated school.

Biddy Mason (1818-1891): Mason was a former slave turned Los Angeles real estate investor who used her wealth to become a philanthropist. Even without learning to read or write, she made “sound investment decisions” and purchased her first property at 48 years old.

Isaac Myers (1835-1891): This Baltimore businessman created one of the first African American trade unions for ship caulkers.

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919): After making money doing laundry and working as a cook, Walker worked for Annie Malone as a sales agent for her hair products. She then launched own beauty and hair line to massive success, becoming “one of the wealthiest African American women of her time.” Walker is credited for being the first self-made Black woman millionaire, though some disagree that financier Mary Ellen Pleasant made it to $1 million before her.

Annie Malone (1869-1957): The daughter of formerly enslaved parents, she became a pioneer of the Black cosmetics industry, forming her own beauty and hair care company. She also founded cosmetology school Poro College in St. Louis, Missouri in 1902. Malone is also one of the first Black American woman millionaires.

Frederick Douglas Patterson (1871-1932): Patterson, an Ohio businessman, was the first Black American to create a car manufacturing company.

Charles Clinton Spaulding (1874-1952): This North Carolina resident led North Carolina Mutual, one of the first Black-led US mutual funds and largest Black-owned insurance company at the time.

Marie Van Brittan Brown (1922-1999): This New Yorker was the inventor of the first home security system and closed-circuit television.

Others include the aforementioned Mary Ellen Pleasant, businessman Jeremiah Hamilton, publisher John Johnson, philanthropist Reginald Lewis — the list goes on.

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