"By telling the little-known stories of six pioneering African-American entrepreneurs, Black Fortunes makes a worthy contribution to black history, business history and American history." - Margot Lee Shetterly, author of New York Times bestselling Hidden Figures
The surprising and untold story of America's first black millionaires - former slaves who endured incredible challenges to accumulate and maintain their wealth for a century from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties - self-taught entrepreneurs whose success is unknown , it mirrors that of American business heroes like Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller and Thomas Edison.
While Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Michael Jordan and Will Smith are among the estimated 35,000 black millionaires in the country today, these famous celebrities weren't the first to reach the legendary 1%. Between 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery reached maturity, a small group of intelligent, tenacious and daring men and women broke new ground to achieve the highest levels of financial success.
Black Fortunes is an intriguing look at these extraordinary individuals, including Napoleon Bonaparte Drew, the great-great-grandfather of author Shomari Wills, the first black man in Powhatan County (now Richmond) to own a property. in post-war Virginia.
Immediately after Emancipation, there were 4,047 millionaires in the United States, and six of them were African Americans.
Between 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery reached maturity, a small group of hardworking, persevering, and daring men and women innovated to achieve the highest levels of financial success.
Mary Ellen Pleasant used her wealth from the Gold Rush to advance the cause of abolitionist John Brown. Robert Reed Church became the largest landowner in Tennessee. Hannah Elias, the mistress of a millionaire from New York, used the property her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem. Orphan and self-taught chemist, Annie Turnbo Malone developed the first national brand of hair care products. Mississippi teacher O. W. Gurley turned a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma into a "city" for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as "Black Wall Street." Although Mrs. C.J. Walker was awarded the title of America's first black woman millionaire, she was not. However, she was the first to display and openly claim her wealth, a dangerous and revolutionary act.
Almost all the unforgettable personalities in this extraordinary collection have often been attacked, demonized or cheated of their wealth. Black Fortunes lights up the birth of the black business titan like never before.
"By telling the little-known stories of six pioneering African-American entrepreneurs, Black Fortunes makes a worthy contribution to black history, business history and American history." - Margot Lee Shetterly, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Figures
“Shomari Wills captures six African Americans who played the improbable, who sort of escaped slavery, sort of escaped the racist traps and got there and stayed rich. Black Fortunes is as surprising and rich as the lives of the first black millionaires he tells ”. - Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award winner, author of Stamped from the Beginning
"[A] compelling profile of the first African Americans to become millionaires… Black Fortunes provides the necessary context for [their] accomplishments and, as such, is an important addition to our ever-evolving understanding of collective history." - Washington Post
"[A] book full of history." - Ebony
“The story from Black Fortunes will be an eye opener for many who will be shocked to learn that there was a black rich class right after slavery… a classic story of black resilience and determination to overthrow a racist social order in the long run in a meaningful and quantifiable way, but it's also a warning about the unique challenges African Americans face in trying to create and maintain wealth. ”- Black Enterprise
"Amazing stories of six self-made African American millionaires ... This very readable group biography illustrates how these early millionaires" survived assassination attempts, lynchings, frivolous prosecutions and criminal cases "and, in doing so, paved the way for Oprah, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. " - Weekly editors
First of all, shame on the American school system for not teaching black people EVERYTHING about their history. Noooo, as black people we only learned about slavery and a few little things that are only a very small percentage of our heritage. Why am I 43 and just found out about these African American millionaires from the 1800s? I guess our role and contribution in American history is not important. Well, thank goodness for books like this. I'm not even finished with it, but I already had to see it again. I was talking to my 21 year old daughter. She's happy to read it when I'm done. I will be ordering one for my son in another condition. Shame on the American School System Teaching Only HIStory (HIS STORY)
A well-written job, Shomari Wills uses solid research and great storytelling to uncover the hidden truth of remarkable African American entrepreneurs who have amassed wealth while crossing dangerous social, political and psychological barriers, physical violence and personal shortcomings.
The story of black wealth and all the ways white racism combats it is not taught in schools. The story of Indians owning slaves and fighting with the Confederacy to maintain slavery and fight the United States' intentions to steal Indian lands is not taught in schools. Wills reveals truths that are not commonly known among African American historians (Madame CJ Walker was not actually a millionaire, nor as prosperous financially as her mentor, for example, or that Greenwood was rebuilt after being destroyed by the racist white mobs. This is a fascinating read. Wills forced a more nuanced understanding of the role of black wealth in the dismantling of white supremacy in a capitalist society.
Excellent history book ... every black person should know their ancestors described in this writing. It shows why and how the wealth of black people today is at the top ... while highlighting their neglect not to reinvest in our businesses, community infrastructure and institution building. If Opra and a dozen other wealthy black elites pooled even an eighth of their money to invest in financial and learning institutions created for blacks, the wealth gap would shrink by a generation.
It breaks my heart to know that there is so much about our black ancestors that we are not aware of. I'm 64 years old and proud of my reading skills, but this is the first time I've heard of some people in this book. When I saw the movie Rosewood years ago it broke my heart, but I got interested in the life of our people after slavery.
I began to hear more verbal accounts of towns in the South where former slaves had banded together to form secure enclaves in order to raise families in peace and obtain a semblance of prosperity. Then I heard about Greenwood and all I could think of was the envy and jealousy and ignorance of a group of people who would rather take and destroy a person's livelihood because she needed to be superior. Here we are 200 years later and we still strive to be recognized and recognized for the accomplishments we have made. It is not enough that we have enriched white people economically by working as slaves and raising their children, serving as their concubines, while having our families torn apart, our children and loved ones sold to the highest bidder.
Here we are in 2021, still fighting for equality. We should have learned these lessons at school. Maybe the pride I feel inside knowing the struggles people have endured would further enlighten our young people and give them a reason to strive to do better. But if a person does not know their story, how can they start to write their own story. Not everyone even has the capacity to seek out the truth. So we need writers and journalists like you to keep telling stories. We need you to do what we can't, don't want, or don't know how to do. We need you to continue to seek and give us the knowledge, so that I can pass it on to my children and they can become curious and their thirst for truth can galvanize them and motivate them to do better. My mom always told me when I was growing up when you know better that you are doing better. I really believe it. Thank you for enriching my life. I can't wait to read more authors like you.