Black Women Entrepreneurs

Photo Essay

A forerunner of Oprah Winfrey in entertainment entrepreneurship, Eliza Ann Miller was the first woman to build and operate a movie theater in Arkansas. This photograph is from a book How I Succeeded in My Business (1911), by her husband, Rev. A. H. Miller.

It is perhaps unremarkable to say that African American women's participation in business developed slowly since Africans first began arriving in North America in the sixteenth century. However, when one considers the terrible legacy of slavery, the travesty of the Jim Crow era, and the continuing struggle for women's rights, it is striking to note that even before the civil rights movement of the 1960s a number of black women had become successful businesswomen, despite the fact that for centuries the United States had been frustratingly pro-male and pro-white. The earliest African American female entrepreneurs based their businesses around domestic services such as sewing, cooking, or cleaning. In time, though, the possibilities grew to encompass sales of health and beauty aids, investment in real estate, ownership of restaurants and boarding houses, the foundation of banks and other financial institutions, and a host of other endeavors. Today African American women are found serving as the CEOs of multimillion dollar corporations, controlling companies that pioneer new exciting technologies, and commanding media empires whose influence spans the globe. These women have reached the heights of success in the business world through hard work and focus, a willingness to innovate and embrace change, and a determination not to be cowed by the obstacles in their path. To honor their achievements, this month the editors of the African American Studies Center present profiles of some women who succeeded in business by really trying

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Featured Articles

The following articles have been selected to help guide readers who want to learn more about African American participation in business, female entrepreneurship in American history, and the growing presence of black women in the business world. (Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)

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