Earl G. Graves, Sr., the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, celebrates his 80th birthday today. With the success of his magazine and other business endeavors, Graves will go down in history as one of the most savvy executives of all time.
Born in Brooklyn and raised in the borough’s Bed-Stuy section in 1935, Graves attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. and left with a bachelor’s degree in Economics in 1958. Graves was a member of the ROTC, and served two years in the U.S. Army after graduating. In 1964, Graves volunteered to be part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidential campaign team.
That led him to working as an administrative assistant to Senator Robert F. Kennedy. After Kennedy’s assassination, Graves sat on a board for the Small Business Administration. While working at the SBA, Graves focused on economics and Black consumer power. Graves addressed those matters in a newsletter, and was urged by a colleague to turn the venture into a full magazine.
In August 1970, under Graves’ Earl G. Graves, Ltd. company, Black Enterprise was born. The magazine was a huge success and continues to be a leading resource for business and investment news for Black Americans. The magazine boasts a readership of 3.7 million and has a robust online presence.
In 2006, Graves handed over the reins and title of CEO to his son, former NBA player Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr. The elder Graves is still considered the publisher, and remains the chairman of the magazine’s holding company. In the ’90’s, Graves purchased and was the chairman and CEO of Pepsi-Cola’s Washington, D.C. distribution hub.
Graves still sits on the board for Pepsi, and has been recognized for increasing the company’s diversity and investment in minority neighborhoods. In 1999, Graves was honored with the NAACP Spingarn Medal, among other honors, including being named to the National Black College Hall Of Fame. In 2007, also he was also inducted into the U.S. Business Hall Of Fame.
Graves’ wife, Barbara, died in 2012 after battling cancer. In an obituary published in Black Enterprise, she was named the guiding force in the success of the family business. The couple’s two other sons, Johnny and Michael, have all served in executive positions at Black Enterprise.
(Photo: Morgan State University)