African American Entrepreneurs Throughout History

Who says we can only reflect on black awesomeness in February, the shortest month of the year?

Entrepreneurship is something that has always been a strong attribute in the black community. From the beginning, blacks have responded to oppression and lack of opportunities due to racism and segregation by paving their own ways and creating great things from nothing. As preferred job opportunities become more and more scarce for millenials, many of them are beginning to create roles for themselves out of both necessity and the desire to be free from the “shackles of a 9-5”.

If you’re in the process of doing so yourself, or maybe just thinking about it, here’s some inspiration from others who have done it and made their marks on history.

1. Clara Brown

clara brown

Born a slave in 1800, Clara was separated from her husband and children when they were all sold off to different plantations. Her own master set her free 50 years later and she traveled from state to state opening a slew of successful laundry businesses. She settled in Colorado and became the first black women to join the Gold Rush, funneling her considerable fortune into gold mines. Her tireless search for her family also paid off when she was able to finally locate one of her daughters, fifty years after they were initially separated.

2. John James Smith

john james smith

Born in Virginia around 1820, Smith moved to Boston at 28, becoming a top barber in the area and opened his own shop. Years later, he opened another, which became a premiere abolitionist meetup spot.

3. Joseph Lee

joseph lee

Born in Boston in the mid 1800’s, Lee’s work in bakeries as a young boy earned him the distinction of master chef and baker in his adult years. He owned and operated two restaurants and a hotel in the Boston area, as well as a catering company AND a summer resort (WHEW!) He is also credited with inventing a machine that turned bread into bread crumbs in 1895.

4. Garrett Morgan

garret morgan

A Kentucky native born in late in the 17th century, Morgan worked in a sewing machine factory in Ohio as a teen. After obtaining a patent for an improved sewing machine, he opened his own repair shop soon after. In 1914, he invented a gas mask. Nine years later he invented a three way traffic light. His work with taming and smoothing rough fabrics with chemicals led to his invention of my PERSONAL BEST FRIEND, the hair relaxer :), which later led to his own hair care company.

5. Maggie Lena Walker

maggie lena walker

Walker was born in 1864 to a former slave and a white Confederate soldier. After working as a teacher, she became active in the fight to improve the quality of life for African Americans through the Independent Organization of St. Luke. She went on to ¬†found a newspaper, bank and department store in the early 1900’s, all catering to blacks during the Jim Crow era.

These individuals were all able to carve a way for themselves while surrounded my oppression and facing seriously stifling odds. Let’s look to them for inspiration the next time we think something may be impossible.