“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.
Wills, a former contributor to Good Morning America, chronicles the incredible stories of six self-made African-American millionaires who amassed great wealth in the decades after Lincoln's emancipation proclamation. Hannah Elias (1865 1903) was given land by her millionaire lover and used her money to help African-Americans move into Harlem; schoolteacher O.W. Gurley (1868 1921) developed his land in Oklahoma into an all-black commerce district known as Black Wall Street; and Robert Reed Church (1839 1912) purchased properties in Memphis, which he transformed into the black music enclave that became Memphis's famed Beale Street. Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814 1904) profited from the Gold Rush and used her wealth to fund abolitionist causes, including John Brown's Harpers Ferry raid. Annie Minerva Turnbo (1877 1957), a self-taught chemist from Peoria, Illinois, built the first black hair care empire, only to be outdone by her former pupil, Madam C.J. Walker (1867 1919). Willis unearths these figures from obscurity using fluid prose and juicy detail (Elias had a "round face with a flat nose and big brown eyes with heavy eyelids. One of the girls who worked with Elias summed her up this way: she exhibited a peculiar influence over white men' "). This highly readable group biography illustrates the ways those early millionaires "survived assassination attempts, lynchings, frivolous lawsuits, and criminal cases" and, in doing so, paved the way for Oprah, Beyonc , and Jay-Z.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Loved the detail in the history and the stories bring told simultaneously. Must read for Black History.
It’s always a treat to discover more about the hidden figures in black history.