Black Businessmen in History

Celebrating Black History Month

John H. Johnson

The first African American businessman to be listed in the Forbes 400, John H. Johnson was born in 1918 in Arkansas City, Arkansas. In 1942 he founded the Johnson Publishing Company in Chicago, Illinois. His publications Ebony and Jet magazines were among the most influential African American businesses in the second half of the 20th century.

Reginald F. Lewis

Reginald F. Lewis, a graduate of Harvard Law School, left his corporate law practice after 15 years and started his own private equity company. He went on to found TLC International Beatrice Holdings which he built into a billion-dollar company. In 1993 his personal net worth was estimated at $1 billion. 

Charles Clinton…

Charles Clinton Spaulding started his working life as a dishwasher. Later, he became the manager of a grocery company. In 1898 he began his career with the North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association, a life insurance company which became the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, America’s largest black-owned business He took of the position of president, serving until his death in 1952. 

Alonzo Franklin Herndon…

Born into slavery in 1857, Alonzo Franklin Herndon became the first African-American millionaires in the United States. His first successful enterprise as the owner of three large barbershops in Atlanta, Georgia that catered to prominent white men. Later, he founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company which was the most successful black-owned business in the nation. 

Frederick Douglas Patterson…

Frederick Douglas Patterson invented the Patterson-Greenfield automobile in 1915. After joining his father’s carriage business, C. R. Patterson and Sons, he converted the company to car manufacturing, after making 150 of his invention, he turned the business to buses and trucks and renamed it the Greenfield Bus Body Company. 

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