This month we are celebrating four Black American financial leaders whose actions empowered their communities as they built businesses and achieved success. Visionaries, entrepreneurs, and even a bank owner who encouraged kids to build good saving habits early on.
Here are the four people who continue to inspire today, showing us that financial success is obtainable with skills and determination.
Alonzo Herndon was Atlanta's first African American millionaire. A former slave, his entrepreneurial spirit and determination for success led him to open his own barbershop in Atlanta called the Crystal Palace. He later went on to establish the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, one of the largest Black financial institutions in the United States. His entrepreneurial spirit teaches us that you make your own success.
Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker was the first woman to own a bank in the United States. Her math and entrepreneurial skills helped shape black business practices of the time and inspired other women (of all races) to enter the financial field. She started out by establishing a community insurance company for women in Virginia. By 1903 she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank.
While offering financial services for adults, the bank also served kids, encouraging them to save money early. By 1924, the bank expanded to other parts of the state. During the Great Depression, while other banks were in ruin, her bank survived. It eventually consolidated with 2 other large banks and is still in operation today.
O.W. Gurley was a self-educated man from Arkansas. There he was a teacher and a postal worker. Wanting more from life, he moved with his wife to Perry, Oklahoma where he owned and operated a successful general store.
Ambitious, he saw the potential for growth in Tulsa for a prosperous Black American community. He sold his properties to buy land in Greenwood. There he built a grocery store and subdivided his land creating opportunities for residential and commercial lots. A true visionary, his investment paid off as the area flourished financially and became known as Black Wall Street.
Earl G. Graves, Sr.
Earl G. Graves, Sr., shows us that passion, drive, and hard work can lead to greatness. Working his way up from humble beginnings, after college he: served in the Army, worked in law enforcement, real estate, and was the administrative assistant for Sen. Bobby Kenedy until his assassination.
After Kennedy's assassination, he decided to start a magazine, Black Enterprise, dedicated to inspiring Black entrepreneurship and providing tools for business and financial education. The publication grew into a multi-media communication powerhouse that includes: print, digital, broadcast and events. Add to that an award-winning book, he’s inspired generations of African Americans to build wealth.
Read, Watch, Listen
There are so many inspiring stories and biographies of trailblazers who have positively impacted their communities and beyond. We've found some great lists of books, movies, and podcasts to help honor Black History month with your kids.