As today marks the last week of Black Business Month, we decided to look back on a handful of pioneers who laid down the foundation that made Black entrepreneurship the juggernaut it’s become today.
From the groundwork set forth in the Black beauty care business by the legendary Madam C.J. Walker, to female predecessors like Oprah Winfrey who completely changed the structure of modern Black media, we give a salute to the ones who set forth the original example of what it actually means to Buy Black.
As you can see in a recent social media post from the revamped MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker (seen above), the legacy of America’s first self-made female millionaire is still going strong over a century after her passing in 1919. When you look at what pop superstar Rihanna is currently achieving with her own line of Fenty Beauty cosmetics and skincare, it’s easy to see how historic moves made decades prior by women like the aforementioned Walker, and Sarah Breedlove before her, helped Rih to become America’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
A huge part of Black culture is understanding that we can’t know where we’re going without first discovering where we came from. We can only hope that the men and women we chose to highlight on this list can lead by example in furthering your knowledge on what it takes to be successful in business while also navigating the world as a Black person.
From music moguls and finance tycoons to a multimillionaire purveyor of banking and art culture, use this last week of Black Business Month to reflect on 7 key figures in the history of Black entrepreneurship:
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1. Alonzo Herndon – Finance
After being born into slavery and emancipated into poverty, Herndon built his fortune in the late 1800s by way of barbering and investing in real estate. By the early 1900s, he became one of the first African American millionaires in America.
2. Madam C.J. Walker – BeautySource:Getty
Taking what she learned from working for Annie Malone, another pioneering Black female millionaire entrepreneur in beauty care, Walker was not only able to cure her own haircare ailments but also generations of Black women after her.
3. John T. Ward – Moving & Storage
Still operating today in Columbus, Ohio, E.E. Ward Moving & Storage Co is proudly credited as the oldest Black-owned business in the United States after being founded by John and his son, William S. Ward, back in 1881.
4. Maria P. Williams – Film
Considering the success stories of Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae, two Black female filmmakers currently in total control of their cinematic narratives, Williams deserves her flowers for being an early example for them by making history with her 1923 silent crime drama, The Flames of Wrath, which she produced, self-distributed and even acted in.
5. Berry Gordy Jr. – Music
If you’re still jamming to classic Motown oldies from the ’60s and ’70s, Berry Gordy is the one to thank for making it all possible when he founded the company back in 1958. Even at the young age of 92, the OG Renaissance Man is still keeping those records spinning at Motown.
6. Raymond McGuire – ArtSource:Getty
Although his fortune was built primarily in financing, McGuire’s penchant as an art collector is truly where you get to see his philanthropy shine. His ongoing support of African American artists has without a doubt helped usher in the tanning of America’s art world.
7. Oprah Winfrey – MediaSource:Getty
What is there to be said about Oprah that isn’t already known by the world at hand? A longtime leader in television, literature, education, healthcare and possibly more aka’s than we can count, Winfrey has set forth the most prime example for Black people everywhere of what it means to own.