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Sherri J. Norris

chemical engineer and environmental engineering entrepreneur, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the second of four daughters of Ernest Buford Abron and Bernice Wise Abron, both educators. Abron was educated in Memphis public schools and was a member of the National Honor Society. Abron divorced and had three sons, Frederick, Ernest, and David; she is occasionally credited as Lilia Ann Abron-Robinson.

Abron stayed close to home when she attended LeMoyne College, a historically black college in Memphis, Tennessee. She considered medical school, but she was persuaded by her advisor, Dr. Beuler, to pursue a career in engineering instead. Her decision was a risky one. She did not know of any African Americans with engineering degrees who were actually working as engineers; instead, she once said in an interview, they were often working in post offices. In 1966 Abron received her BS in Chemistry from ...

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Antero Pietila

a teenaged numbers runner who become an important Baltimore business leader, was born into a family of sharecroppers. He was raised by his grandparents in Zebulon, North Carolina, and moved to Baltimore in 1929, during the Depression. He quickly grew tired of the city's Dunbar High School, working instead in a rag factory and fixing bicycles—a sideline he had begun at age ten. On his bicycle, he also ran errands for numbers operators; lucrative illegal lotteries thrived in the city under the protection of the Democratic machine. By the age of twenty, he was an aspiring kingpin, and the owner of three stores.

Adams's grip on numbers strengthened in 1938, after the death of the city's “Black King,” Democratic boss Tom Smith Adams filled the vacuum That year white Philadelphia gangsters firebombed his tavern He repelled the takeover attempt living up to his nickname Little Willie acquired ...

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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian painter, diplomat, customs director, entrepreneur, linguist, university professor, and novelist, was born in Zage, Gojjam province of Ethiopia, on 10 July 1868. His father, Gebre Iyesus Denke, was a priest serving a local church, and his mother, Fenta Tehun Adego Ayechew, was presumably a housewife. In Zage, then a center of learning, Afewerq learned the painting, poetry, church music, and liturgical dancing of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.

Afewerq was related to Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menilek (1844–1913 on account of which he was brought to the palace to continue what he had started in Zage He was later sent to Italy to further his studies at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Turin Upon his return from Italy he began to produce mural paintings by order of the palace and decorated the churches at Entotto then the capital city However he soon ...

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Miles M. Jackson

explorer and businessman, was born a slave in German Flats, New York. He was owned by the Dougal family and spent his youth in Schenectady. It is very likely his mother was a slave (New York did not abolish slavery until 1827); his father was a freeman and a mariner. Following the death of his master, he was purchased by another owner. After gaining his freedom in 1796, Allen arrived in Boston in 1800 and went to sea just as his father had done. Indeed, many African Americans living in Boston had ties to the maritime industry in some way. Like other black mariners, Allen faced the risk of reenslavement when he traveled to Southern ports. Once he was saved from imprisonment by one of the ship's owners, who paid $300 for his release.

Allen's years at sea between 1800 and 1810 provided him with unique experiences ...

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Ayesha Kanji

entrepreneur, author, and inspirational speaker, was born Wallace Amos Jr. in Tallahassee, Florida, to Ruby (maiden name unknown), a domestic worker, and Wallace Amos a laborer at the local gasoline plant Hard work discipline and religion were the cornerstones of Wally s strict childhood The Christian faith was important to his parents and they took him to church regularly By the age of eight Wally had learned all the books of the Bible In their tight knit black community Friday nights were reserved for community dinners where hearty southern fare was served fried chicken potato salad black eyed peas and collard greens Schooling options for black children were less abundant however so Ruby and several of her Methodist church members started a school which Wally began attending at age ten Wally s entrepreneurial spirit surfaced in his childhood when he started a roving shoeshine stand and ...

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Joshunda Sanders

media mogul, model, and actress, was born Tyra Lynne Banks and grew up in Inglewood, California. Her father, Donald Banks, was a computer consultant, and her mother, Carolyn London, was a medical photographer and business manager. The couple divorced when Tyra was six years old, in 1980.

Banks attended Immaculate Heart Middle and High School, an all-girl's private school. She credited her mother's photography business and friends' encouragement with her ability to overcome a self-consciousness during her awkward adolescence that almost made her pursue another path.

“I grew three inches and lost 40 pounds in 90 days,” she told the Black Collegian in an interview about her teen years. “It was just this crazy growth spurt. I felt like a freak: people would stare at me in the grocery store.”

A friend encouraged her to try modeling during her senior year At the time several ...

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Born in Sanford, Florida, Claude Barnett was sent at a very young age to live with his grandparents and other relatives in suburban Chicago, Illinois. He returned to the South to study engineering at Alabama's Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University), from which he graduated in 1906. Back in Chicago, he worked as a postal clerk and, exposed to a wide range of advertising journals, decided to make a career in advertising. In 1913 he produced a series of photographs of famous blacks, which he sold through the mail, furthering his interest in business.

Five years later Barnett and several other entrepreneurs formed the Kashmir Chemical Company which sold cosmetics Barnett left the post office took the job of advertising manager at Kashmir and toured the country selling cosmetics as well as his photographs In each town he visited the local black newspaper hoping to bargain for ...

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Robert L. Harris

entrepreneur, journalist, and government adviser, was born in Sanford, Florida, the son of William Barnett, a hotel worker, and Celena Anderson. His father worked part of the year in Chicago and the rest of the time in Florida. Barnett's parents separated when he was young, and he lived with his mother's family in Oak Park, Illinois, where he attended school. His maternal ancestors were free blacks who migrated from Wake County, North Carolina, to the black settlement of Lost Creek, near Terre Haute, Indiana, during the 1830s. They then moved to Mattoon, Illinois, where Barnett's maternal grandfather was a teacher and later a barbershop owner, and finally to Oak Park. While attending high school in Oak Park, Barnett worked as a houseboy for Richard W. Sears cofounder of Sears Roebuck and Company Sears offered him a job with the company after he graduated from high school but ...

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Yohan Lee

was born on 15 April 1929 in Trinidad to a Trinidadian mother, Olive Irene Barrow (née Pierre), and Barbadian father, Charles Newton Barrow. Little is known of her early life before she moved to London, but she later told the British Broadcasting Corporation that her own initial experiences with racial discrimination were the driving force behind her passion for social change.

In the 1960s Barrow trained to become a teacher at the University of London. There, she obtained an undergraduate degree in English and also earned a postgraduate degree in education. After teaching and consulting for twenty years in London, she was invited to become a senior lecturer in education at the Furzedown Teachers’ College and seconded to the London Institute of Education, a public research university in 1979 At both she eventually became a trainer of teachers paving the way for the introduction of multicultural education in the ...

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Gregory S. Bell

investment banker and entrepreneur, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the third of four children of Travers Bell Sr., a clerk at a brokerage firm, and Iona St. Ange, a teaching aide. Growing up on the tough streets of Chicago's South Side could often be rough, and Bell would later credit his experiences for giving him the wherewithal to survive and succeed on Wall Street later in his life.

After graduating from high school Bell planned to go to a teachers college At the time his father was working in the backroom of Dempsey Tegeler a Midwestern brokerage firm One summer Bell needed money so his father got him a job as a messenger at the firm On Bell s first day on the job a manager asked him to deliver a briefcase to a company across the street While walking to the destination Bell peeked into the briefcase and ...

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Alwyn Barr

entrepreneur and political organizer, was born to Louisa and Theodore Bellinger, a blacksmith in Lockhart, a small town in Caldwell County in south central Texas. As a teenager he began to work in Lockhart, Texas, for Jeff Howard, who owned a saloon. There he became a dealer for card games that involved betting.

Using his own savings along with loans he acquired from Howard and the Pearl Brewery, Bellinger moved to San Antonio, where by 1906 he had opened his own saloon His success as a gambler grew into a regional and national reputation with trips to Chicago and New York to gamble As an entrepreneur he diversified his investments by adding a real estate office a construction company a café a pool room a barbershop a theater a baseball team a lottery and a taxi service When Prohibition came in the 1920s rumors suggested he ...

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Thomas Aiello

basketball player. David Bing was born and raised in Washington, D.C., where he attended Spingarn High School. He starred on the Spingarn basketball team, earning All-Metro honors and in 1962 being named a Parade All-American. That success drew the attention of the University of Michigan and the University of California at Los Angeles, but Bing instead chose to attend Syracuse University, reasoning that he would be more successful at a basketball program with a lower profile. He was correct. In three of his four seasons at Syracuse, Bing led the team in scoring, averaging more than twenty points a game. In his senior year (1966) Bing averaged 28.4 points a game—fifth highest in the country—and was named an All-American. Meanwhile he turned the perennially struggling Syracuse into a winning program. Professional scouts noticed, and in 1966 the Detroit Pistons drafted Bing in the first round of ...

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Rita Kohn

designer, businesswoman, and civic leader, was born Alpha Coles in Lynchburg, Virginia, the youngest of eight children of Alphonso Carroll Coles and Minnie Pugh Coles. Growing up, Blackburn attended a segregated school system, and went on to win a scholarship to Howard University, from which she graduated with honors, attaining a bachelor of arts in Design and a master of fine arts in painting and Art History. In 1964 she moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband, Walter Scott Blackburn, who had completed his degree in architecture at Howard. She commenced work as a freelance designer of clothing and interiors.

Blackburn's petite figure and radiant good looks created opportunities for her to model, and she accepted a steady job at the prestigious L. S. Ayres & Company in downtown Indianapolis. Concurrently, she hosted a half‐hour daily talk show from 1972 to 1978, Indy Today on WISH ...

Article

Christine Gangelhoff and Cathleen LeGrand

was born Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell in London, England, on 22 June 1937. His father, Middleton (“Blackie”) Joseph Blackwell, was British. His mother, Blanche Lindo, came from a prominent white Jamaican family and was a glamorous hostess to celebrities such as Errol Flynn, Ian Fleming, and Noel Coward. Although both of his parents were white, Chris Blackwell would play a central role in the global popularization of black Jamaican music in the second half of the twentieth century.

Sickly and asthmatic as a youth, Blackwell spent his childhood in Jamaica, but was sent to study in England at the age of 10, attending the elite Harrow School. He returned to Jamaica in 1955 and worked a variety of jobs such as renting out motor scooters and teaching water skiing Among his earliest accomplishments in music Blackwell brought back albums from New York to Jamaica supplying local sound systems ...

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Betti Carol VanEpps-Taylor

historian of African Americans in South Dakota, civic leader, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, was born in Yankton, South Dakota, the youngest of eleven children of Henry and Mary (Fristoe) Blakey. The large, extended Blakey clan began migrating from Missouri to South Dakota in 1904, where they acquired land and built a profitable and respected truck gardening business. Young Blakey completed eighth grade in country school and worked in the family business. Beginning in the mid‐1960s Blakey returned to school at Springfield State College (which later closed), where he obtained his GED and completed advanced training in building maintenance and pest control. On 22 October 1948 he married Dorothy Edwards in Athabaska, Alberta, Canada; the couple had three children.

Blakey was an ambitious, self‐taught businessman with a keen interest in civic activities and public service. Of his three successful businesses, Blakey's Janitorial Services, established in 1956 provided jobs for both ...

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Theresa A. Hammond

business leader and educator, born in rural Fallis, Oklahoma territory, to Lester Blayton, a Baptist preacher and Mattie E. Carter, a schoolteacher. Despite having only a fourth‐grade education Mattie Blayton was a schoolteacher who continually underscored the importance of academic achievement. Blayton's father, the mixed‐race, illiterate son of a Creek Indian, was a shaman before becoming a preacher. Blayton attended federally funded elementary and high schools for Native Americans in Meridian, Oklahoma. Later in life he reported that he had been unaware of the poverty of his childhood, though he noted that the only job he had ever hated was when his parents rented him and the family mule out by the day to work in the fields.

With his parents encouragement Blayton attended Langston University working menial jobs to cover his costs His education was interrupted when he volunteered for the U S Army during World War ...

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Angela Black

business owner and entertainment promoter, was born in Danville, Virginia, to Claude Carlton and Marion Baskerville, about whom little is known. Ruth attended the Westmoreland Elementary School and Langston High School in Danville. Ruth's family moved to New York City when she was a teenager, and she graduated from Girls High School in Brooklyn. After attending New York University for two years, she met and fell in love with Wallace “Billy” Bowen, a member of the popular Ink Spots, one of the few entertainment groups in the 1940s and 1950s to break the race barrier and perform for white audiences across the United States. Bowen left school and she and Billy were married until his death in 1982.

Bowen managed the daily office responsibilities of her husband s business She also traveled the United States with the Ink Spots during their concert tours During the 1940s the Bowens ...

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Nancy T. Robinson

historian, collector, archivist, photographer, and entrepreneur, was born Wallace Michael Branch in Brooklyn, New York, one of two sons of Byrd Branch, an entrepreneur who operated a cleaning and tailoring business in New York City and held down a thirty-five-year job at the weekly newspaper Irish Echo to support his family, and Vera Barbour Branch. In Brooklyn, Branch and his family lived a solid middle-class lifestyle, making their home in a four-floor brownstone home that they owned.

Branch was born with sickle cell anemia a hereditary incurable chronic disorder with which patients suffer severe pain and tissue and organ damage as a result of oxygen and nutrient deficiencies At the time of Branch s birth information about and treatment of the disease were limited According to his family doctors who treated Branch as a child never gave him much hope for survival At fourteen Branch became so ill that he ...

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Dália Leonardo

hockey player, was born in Bedford, Indiana, the youngest of three children of the Canadian Nicole Gauthier and the American Johnny Brashear. His great uncle, Carl Maxie Brashear, made history in 1970 as the first African American to rise to the ranks of master diver for the United States Navy. Brashear grew up in a household marked by domestic violence and his father's struggle with alcohol addiction, and was repeatedly the victim of physical assaults starting when he was just an infant. Even after his parents' separation, Brashear remained with his father and when he was six years old was reunited with the rest of his family, which by then included a stepbrother, Danny Roy Brashear s new home in Loretteville Quebec wasn t any safer as he was particularly targeted by his stepfather Gerard Roy who emotionally and physically abused him His mother eventually placed ...

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Glenn Allen Knoblock

dancer, jazz band leader, and businesswoman, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Eddie Briscoe, a meatpacker, and Neliska Thomas, a cook and housekeeper born in Mexico. She had two half brothers and a sister who died young. Briscoe's career as an entertainer began early, at about the age of nine, when she performed in a club where her uncle, Escaliere Thomas, was employed part time in the evenings. Soon thereafter Briscoe acquired the nickname “Baby” (sometimes “Babe”), a moniker she retained in her entertainment career even as an adult.

Briscoe performed in New Orleans at the St Bernard Alley Cabaret known for its talented jazz band as an acrobatic dancer in a floor show in which she was the sole child performer accompanied there in the evenings by her mother after work A natural on the stage Briscoe continued to perform as a popular ...