Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Incredible Stories of America’s First Black Millionaires

Mary Ellen Pleasant
Mary Ellen Pleasant (Getty)

*Nowadays, there are many ways to make your fortune. You could become a YouTube star, an actor or actress, make a popular app or video game, or become a successful businessperson by creating your own blog using a website builder – the possibilities are endless.

However, looking back through history, some individuals became millionaires against all the odds. This article is about America’s first Black millionaires who broke from slavery and became incredible self-made business entrepreneurs. They enjoyed as much success as some of the most prolific, celebrated, and wealthy businessmen of all time, such as Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.

There are around 35,000 Black millionaires in the world today, among them are well-known celebrities such as Will Smith, power couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey. However, the first Black millionaires found their fortune a long time ago, as far back as the early 19th century.

It was between 1830 and 1927 that the final generation of Black men and women were born into slavery and when grown, some of these decided to take courageous steps to push the boundaries, break new ground, and were rewarded highly for doing so.

So who are some of these daring individuals who, against all the odds, became America’s first Black millionaires? Let’s take a look at some of them.

Mary Ellen Pleasant
Mary Ellen, an American entrepreneur, financier, real estate magnate, and abolitionist, used the wealth she accumulated during the gold rush to fund her strong and brave political views. She fought to bring slavery to an end, and her fortune was put to good use, making sure that the slave trade was no more. She also funded John Brown and the Underground Railroad

Robert Reed Church
Robert began to find his fortune during the American civil war when he escaped slavery. He was highly influential in the business community, beginning his journey by opening a pool hall, tavern and nightclub in Memphis. In July of 1866, white men disguised as price officers attacked Church, looted his stores, and left him for dead before setting fire to the building. He survived against all the odds, and he went on to own the largest amount of land in the entire state of Tennessee as well as being hugely influential in the fight against lynching.

Hannah Elias
Hannah Elias resided in New York City and became the mistress of a millionaire businessman. He passed much of his fortune to her enabling her to build a huge empire in Harlem. Her lover subsequently sued her, describing her as a ‘Black enchantress.’ However, Elias hired her own lawyer and beat the case.

Annie Turnbo-Malone
Self-taught chemist Annie Turbo-Malone found fame and fortune by developing hair care products and cosmetics for African-American women, which went on to become extremely popular. She was also a dedicated philanthropist who donated thousands of dollars to the local Black YMCA as well as the Howard University College of Medicine.

William Alexander Leidesdorff
William Alexander Leidesdorff

William Liedesdorff
William Liedesdorff was the first African American in history to have a net worth of over a million. He worked in New Orleans, passing himself off as a white man until he was outed and moved to California. Here he accumulated huge amounts of land which just so happened to be rich in gold.

The struggles of these amazing people, America’s Black millionaires, is evident. Despite being born into a life of suffering, they managed to break free of the restrictions put upon them by society and make their fortunes. Despite this, many of them chose to stay away from the limelight. They used their wealth to aid the communities and support important causes that they believed in, and that is something to admire and be humbled by.

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