Five Little Known Facts About Black Economic History

In honor of Black History Month, here’s five, interesting little known facts about the economic contributions and strides of African Americans throughout history.

1. The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers was the first black-owned bank in the United States. It was founded on March 2, 1888 by Reverend William Washington Browne and opened on April 3, 1889. Reverend Browne was a former slave and established the bank for the financial needs of the black community. This is one of the many banks established during the period of reconstruction that followed the civil war.

2. In 1993, Jerry Williams became the first African American CEO of a Fortune 500 company when he rose to the position of CEO of AM International, a Chicago-based graphics company. Williams also was the first African-American to be displayed on the cover of Fortune magazine. In addition to this, Williams also founded the Grand Eagle Companies in Chicago, where he served as president and CEO. His company grew to a value of $215 million and became the largest independent manufacturer and repairer of electric motors in North America.

3. The National Negro Convention was an annual meeting of African American leaders and business owners in which they discussed ways of improving economic opportunities for blacks. The group’s meeting began in 1831, and met a dozen times before the onset of the Civil War. In 1855, an assessment of the net worth of African American businesses by region was presented at this convention. The midwestern states of Ohio, Illinois and Michigan represented $1.5 million. Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island represented $2 million. New York and Pennsylvania had black owned businesses with net worth totaling $3 million.

4. Marjorie Stewart Joyner- in 1926, she became the first African American women to receive a patent for her invention. Her invention was the permanent wave machine, which allowed women to maintain their hairstyles several days after the they left the beauticians seat. In addition to being an inventor, she was a philanthropist for historically black colleges and universities, and raised a significant amount of funds for Bethune Cookman.

5. Grigsby Brandford & Co, a black-owned investment bank beat out Goldman and Sachs and Morgan Stanley in 1993 to lead-manage a $503 million refinancing project for the Los Angelos convention center. This was the largest municipal bond deal in the city’s history at this time.

*For more facts about black economic history, check out Julianne Malveaux's book, 365 Facts about Black Economic History.