“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, New York Times Bestselling author of Hidden Figures
Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.
Mary Ellen Pleasant, used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown. Robert Reed Church, became the largest landowner in Tennessee. Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, used the land 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 school teacher O. W. Gurley, developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a “town” for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as “the Black Wall Street.” Although Madam C. J Walker was given the title of America’s first female black millionaire, she was not. She was the first, however, to flaunt and openly claim her wealth—a dangerous and revolutionary act.
Nearly all the unforgettable personalities in this amazing collection were often attacked, demonized, or swindled out of their wealth. Black Fortunes illuminates as never before the birth of the black business titan.
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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
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
Source Notes 273
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