Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires

by Shomari Wills

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Overview

One of Ebony Magazine's True Read picks of 2018

“By telling the little-known stories of six pioneering African American entrepreneurs, Black Fortunes makes a worthy contribution to black history, to business history, and to American history.”—Margot Lee Shetterly, Author of the New York Times Bestseller Hidden Figures

The astonishing untold history of America’s first black millionaires—former slaves who endured incredible challenges to amass and maintain their wealth for a century, from the Jacksonian period to the Roaring Twenties—self-made entrepreneurs whose unknown success mirrored that of American business heroes such as 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 nation today, these famous celebrities were not the first blacks to reach the storied one percent. Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of smart, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.

Black Fortunes is an intriguing look at these remarkable individuals, including Napoleon Bonaparte Drew—author Shomari Wills’ great-great-great-grandfather—the first black man in Powhatan County (contemporary Richmond) to own property in post-Civil War Virginia. His achievements were matched by five other unknown black entrepreneurs including:

  • Mary Ellen Pleasant, who used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown;
  • Robert Reed Church, who became the largest landowner in Tennessee;
  • Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem;
  • Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair care products;
  • Madam C. J Walker, Turnbo-Malone’s employee who would earn the nickname America’s "first female black millionaire;"
  • Mississippi school teacher O. W. Gurley, who developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a "town" for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen" that would become known as "the Black Wall Street."

A fresh, little-known chapter in the nation’s story—A blend of Hidden Figures, Titan, and The TycoonsBlack Fortunes illuminates the birth of the black business titan and the emergence of the black marketplace in America as never before.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062437594
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/30/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 84,654
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Shomari Wills is a journalist. He has worked for CNN and Good Morning America, and has contributed to New York Carib News and Columbia Journalism Review. He received an undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and a graduate degree from Columbia University, where he was named a Lynton Book Writing Fellow. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction ix

Prologue: The First Black Millionaire 1

1 Abolitionism and Capitalism 9

2 King Cotton's Bastard 27

3 Funding the Insurrection 43

4 Robert Reed Church and the Civil War 63

5 The Near Lynching of a Millionaire 71

6 Forty Acres Deferred 79

7 Bob Church Versus Jim Crow 85

8 Mother of Civil Rights in California 101

9 Saint or Sinner? 115

10 Building the Promised Land in Oklahoma 127

11 Founding the Black Hair Industry 135

12 Black Cleopatra 153

13 Last Days of Mary Ellen Pleasant 175

14 The Most Powerful Black Man Alive 183

15 "Black Wall Street" Rises 191

16 Battle for Hair Supremacy 203

17 The Trials of Hannah Elias 219

18 Black Millionaire Legacy 235

19 End of the Promise 241

20 Paris by Way of Harlem 255

Epilogue 263

Acknowledgments 269

Source Notes 273

Index 287

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