Aside from Madam CJ Walker, the history of Black wealth is an uncelebrated and unknown phenomenon. However, history notes that Booker T. Washington and his Tuskegee Institute produced more self-made Black millionaires than Harvard, Princeton and Yale combined. Below we examine success stories of freed Blacks, slaves and the children of slaves.
Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814-1904)
Born in Virginia and later moving to San Francisco in 1852, Pleasant became one of the first African American female self-made millionaires in the U.S. despite the significant obstacles she faced as a Black woman. While working on the Underground Railroad, she built a massive investment portfolio that was reportedly worth as much as $30 million at one time. Pleasant was heavily invested in real estate, as well as gold and silver mines. She was the definition of a philanthropist, driven to build the most wealth possible so she could help as many people as possible.
O. W. Gurley (1868-1935)
Born on Christmas Day in 1868 in Huntsville, Alabama, Gurley grew up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. In 1893 Gurley staked a claim in Perry, Noble County Oklahoman, which he would eventually sell in 1905 to buy 40 acres of land in North Tulsa and established his first business, a hotel. Gurley owned more than one hundred properties in the Greenwood district of Tulsa.
Annie Turnbo-Malone (1869-1957)
Turnbo-Malone was a savvy entrepreneur, businesswoman, inventor and philanthropist. She started a major commercial enterprise that made beauty products and cosmetics for Black women. The daughter of former slaves, she and her family escaped from Kentucky and moved to Illinois. Turnbo-Malone started to produce her own hair-care products, designed specifically for Black women. She called it “Wonderful Hair Grower.” Malone became a millionaire by successfully developing and marketing hair products for Black women in St. Louis.
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