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African Americans in Business and Entrepreneurship: A Resource Guide

Entrepreneurs & Brands

Grand Opening the Rose Meta House of Beauty. May 29, 1948, Page 5, Image 5. The Detroit tribune. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

This section presents lists of contemporary and historic African American entrepreneurs in the United States who have made an impact in the business world. While these lists are by no means comprehensive, they provide a good starting point for students, scholars, and independent researchers to begin researching prominent and influential African American businessmen and businesswomen. Researchers may notice that several historic African American entrepreneurs were heavily involved in beauty, health, and fashion including but not limited to Annie T. Malone, Madame C.J. Walker, Rose Meta Morgan, Anthony Overton, and many more. Many were also either the descendants of enslaved people or born into slavery and freed with the passage of the 13th Amendment. Furthermore, several contemporary African American entrepreneurs became prominent businessmen and businesswomen only after reaching celebrity in other fields such as music and sports, including but not limited to Jay-Z, Rihanna, Michael Jordan, and many more. Even in present times, the beauty, health, and fashion industries have proved incredibly lucrative for African American entrepreneurs.

Consult the Biography page for search advice and resources to search on African American entrepreneurs. To begin doing more in-depth research on individuals from the past, search for business advertisements in both the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog and Chronicling America, as well as for portraits and pictures of the men and women themselves. Also visit the Doing Company Research guide to learn how to conduct in-depth research on companies and businesses. To find more general photos of African American businesses and their owners, search African American businesses or Negro businesses in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

Contemporary African American Entrepreneurs

  • Berry Gordy Jr. In 1959, Berry Gordy Jr. founded Motown Records, which became the most successful Black-owned music company in the United States. Through Motown Records, Gordy Jr. became involved with musical talent including the Supremes, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. In 1988, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame included Gordy Jr. in their famed list of inductees.
  • Dapper Dan. Born Daniel Day in Harlem, New York, Dapper Dan opened his first clothing store in 1982. Hip-hop icons including Salt-N-Peppa, Mary J. Blige, and LL Cool J wore his creations, but after legal action taken in regard to Dapper Dan's usage of European luxury fashion logos, he was forced to close his store. In 2017, after Gucci was accused of stealing one of Dapper Dan's past fashion designs, Gucci worked with him to make a line of men's clothing. At the 2019 Met Gala, 21 Savage, Ashley Graham, Regina Hall, Karlie Kloss, and other celebrities and fashion icons wore Dapper Dan's creations.
  • Daymond John. Before becoming an investor on the popular television show Shark Tank, Daymond John founded the apparel line FUBU and The Shark Group, an agency that provides marketing consultation and branding services. John's entrepreneurial and investing ventures have brought him an estimated net worth of $300 million.
  • Jay-Z. By 2010, Jay-Z had sold more than 15 million album copies and amassed a net worth of more than $50 million. However, Jay-Z continued building his fortune through commercial ventures, including Rocawear, Roc Nation, Roc Nation Sports, Block Starz Music, and Aspiro. With his musical and commercial empire, Jay-Z became the first hip-hop artist billionaire.
  • Michael Jordan. One of the world's greatest basketball players, Michael Jordan's lucrative endorsements and sponsor earnings have brought his net worth to an estimated $2.1 billion, making him the world's highest paid former athlete. As a result of his lucrative partnership with Nike, Nike Air Jordan and Jordan shoes have become a staple in American households Jordan's most recent take from Nike brought him $130 million in 2019.
  • Michelle Obama. After leaving the White House in 2017, the former First Lady of the United States signed multi-million dollar deals with the publishing and media industry, establishing a brand worth hundreds of millions. In the first 5 months of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, her memoir sold more than 10 million copies in print, digital, and audio formats. Additionally, with their Netflix Deal, the Obama's created Higher Ground Productions, a production company that has several projects in the works, including a movie about Frederick Douglass and several documentaries.
  • Oprah. With an estimated net worth of $2.6 billion, the first black female billionaire and and Queen of All Media; became a TV staple with The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired from 1986-2011. In 2011, Oprah launched the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a TV network on cable and in 2013, former President Barack Obama awarded Oprah the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her many contributions to society.
  • Rihanna. With 33 Grammy nominations and 9 wins to her name, Rihanna is one of the most famous and recognized female pop musicians of our time. But with the founding of Fenty Beauty, which brought in $570 million in profit in only 15 months after its launch, Rihanna became the world's wealthiest female musician and a respected entrepreneur. Known for its inclusive branding, Rihanna created Fenty Beauty with the goal of creating products that performed across all skin types and tones.
  • Sean Combs. In 1993, Sean Combs, also known as "Puff Daddy;" or "Diddy", created Bad Boy Entertainment, a music production company that has worked with musicians including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and Biggie Smalls. In 2019, he had an estimated net worth of $740 million. He amassed his fortune through various commercial endeavors, including through Combs Enterprises, which oversees brands involved with spirits entertainment, media, fragrance, fashion, marketing, and music.
  • Shonda Rhimes. Known for having created the long-running TV drama Grey's Anatomy, as well as Scandal and countless other shows, Shonda Rhimes is a force in the television and film industry. In 2017, Rhimes signed a multi-year contract with Netflix rumored to be worth hundreds of millions. Rhimes will be working on a number of original shows, including an adaption of The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, a book concerning The Great Migration.

Historic African American Entrepreneurs

  • Ann Lowe. Anne Lowe became a prominent and well-known fashion designer. Her creations were worn by elite families, including the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, the Rockefellers, and the du Ponts. Lowe opened her own store, Anne Lowe's Gowns, in Harlem, New York. One of Lowe's most famous designs included Jackie Kennedy's wedding dress.&
  • Annie T. Malone. Annie T. Malone made her start in the beauty and hair industry by creating a hair product for African American women that straightened their hair without causing damaging. Malone became a millionaire through the sale of hair and cosmetic products, which she and her employees sold by going door-to-door.
  • Anthony Overton. Born into slavery in 1865, Anthony Overton became a leading African American entrepreneur during the twentieth century with the establishment of his Chicago-based empire. In 1898, Overton created the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company. The company sold baking powder, cosmetics, perfumes, and toiletries. In addition to his manufacturing company, Overton established The Douglass National Bank, The Victory Life Insurance Company, The Half-Century Magazine, The Chicago Bee, and The Great Northern Realty Company.
  • Charles Clinton Spaulding. Charles Clinton Spaulding served as president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, the largest black-owned insurance company in the United States. Spaulding also served as director of Mechanics and Farmers Bank, Bankers Fire Insurance Company, and Mutual Savings and Loan Association. The success of the Mutual Insurance Company and other insurance enterprises based in Durham, North Carolina, led to it being called "the capital of the black middle class."
  • Jeremiah Hamilton. By the time of his death in 1875, Jeremiah Hamilton, also known as Wall Street's First Black Millionaire, died the richest black American. Hamilton amassed a fortune worth an estimated $2 million through various business ventures, including questionable business dealings involving counterfeit Haitian coins. His legitimate business involved operating what is known today as a hedge fund.
  • John H Johnson. In 1942, John H. Johnson founded Johnson Publishing Company. The company published Negro Digest, their first magazine, as well as Ebony and Jet magazines. In addition to Johnson's commercial ventures in magazine and book publishing, he owned Supreme Beauty Products and Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world.
  • Madame C. J. Walker. One of the most celebrated and recognized African American entrepreneurs, Madame C.J. Walker made her mark on the hair and beauty industry with her invention of a line of hair products targeting African Americans. Her success in the industry made Walker a millionaire and she went on to manufacture cosmetics through Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories.
  • Marjorie Joyner. In 1916, Marjorie Joyner opened her first salon on Chicago's South State Street. After meeting and befriending Madame C.J. Walker, Joyner became the national supervisor for Madame C.J. Walker Beauty Colleges, overseeing more than 200 beauty schools in her role. In 1928, Joyner filed a patent petition for a permanent hair-wave machine, stating, "The object of the invention is the construction of a simple and efficient machine that will wave the hair of both white and colored women."
  • Robert S. Abbott. In 1905, Robert S. Abbott founded The Chicago Defender with 25 cents and a press run of 300 copies. The Defender became one of the most popular and well-known African American newspapers in the US, with two-thirds of its readership coming from outside Chicago. The commercial success of The Defender made Abbott one of Chicago's first Black millionaires.
  • Rose Meta Morgan. In 1945, Rose Meta Morgan opened her first salon, the Rose Meta House of Beauty. The salon offered hair and skin care, as well as other services catering to black women. Just a year later, Ebony deemed her salon "the biggest Negro beauty parlor in the world." The salon went on to amass more than $3 million in sales only a few years after opening. Morgan eventually expanded her interests to include banking and in 1964, Morgan helped start Freedom National Bank, a black-owned commercial bank operating in New York.

Selected Resources on Entrepreneurship

The following book titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The following book titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.

The following book titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content are included when available.