Black Americans have contributed to American culture and innovation in countless ways. For Black History Month, we’re reflecting on how African Americans have contributed to the world of entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and everyday activities we engage in at home and at work.
Black Entrepreneurs & Business
Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919)
Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) was an entrepreneur, activist and philanthropist best known for her line of hair products, whose success propelled her to become one of America’s “most successful, self-made women entrepreneurs” of the 20th century. Her innovation in scalp treatment and hair growth for natural hair, as well as her political advocacy, are seen as foundational for community-conscious corporate giving in the African-American community. While her business, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, closed in 1981, the brand was revived by Sundial Brands in 2013, with Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture hair products being sold today at Sephora.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1901)
Bridget “Biddy” Mason is known as one of the early developers of the city of Los Angeles, having been the wealthiest Black woman in the city at the time. After gaining freedom from enslavement, Mason worked as a mid-wife and saved up her money to purchase and lease out multiple properties in Los Angeles. She also organized and funded the first Black church (the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles) and founded the first Black elementary school in the city as well.
Daymond John (1969 - )
Daymond John is the founder of the major fashion brand FUBU (worth $6 billion). John honed his skills for making money beginning in the first grade, where he would sell customized pencils to his classmates at school. He continued to experiment and study business throughout his life. Aside from the legacy & influence of FUBU, John continues to share his entrepreneurial knowledge by working as a mentor on Shark Tank, a global business consultant, and a public speaker.
Black Philanthropists & Nonprofits
Whether through formalized non-profit organizations, or through community care, advocacy, mutual aid, and volunteering, there are numerous Black trailblazers who embodied the meaning of “philanthropy,” or the love of humankind. In addition to some well-known names such as Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, or Sojourner Truth, here are a few other Black men & women who championed advocacy and giving throughout their lives.
James Forten (1766-1842)
James Forten was a philanthropist who amassed his wealth by gaining the reputation as the best sailmaker in Philadelphia. Born to a free Black family in Philadelphia, Forten was a champion of abolition. Forten gave much of his money to the abolitionist cause as well as his time to advocacy, such as serving as the vice-president of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Forten’s legacy lived on through his children and grandchildren, who continued to advocate for freedom.
A.G. Gaston (1892-1996)
A.G. Gaston was a multimillionaire known for covering the legal bills of court cases involving civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr. He also donated his business spaces for activists to use and donated much of his property to charity after his death.
Pearl C. Anderson (1898-1990)
A contributor to philanthropic history right here in Dallas, Texas, Anderson was the first 6-figure donor to the Dallas Community Trust Fund (now named the Communities Foundation of Texas). Born in rural, racially-segregated Louisiana, Anderson was unable to go to school until age 12, when a school for Black children was built nearby, funded by the Rosenwald Fund. Walking by the fund’s plaque every day, Anderson was determined to pay it forward and provide funding to improve the lives of others around her. The Pearl C. Anderson Fund at CFT continues to fund multiple nonprofits today.
Black Inventors & Your Everyday Life
Here are few items you may use around your home, office, or on your way to work that were created by talented Black inventors:
· Potato Chips – created by George Crum
· Home Security System – created by Mary Van Brittan Brown
· Peanut Butter – created by George Washington Carver
· Heater – created by Alice H. Parker
· Traffic Light – created by Garret Morgan in 1923
· Caller ID – influenced by Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson’s research
· GIFs – based on animation techniques developed by Lisa Gelobter
· Ice Cream Scooper – created by Alfred L. Cralle
· Juicer – created by Madeline Turner
· Foldable Bed – influenced by Sarah E. Goode’s cabinet bed (the first Black woman to be given a patent)
· Folding Chair – created by John Purdy
· Menstrual Pads – improved by Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner
This list is just a short list of notable Black Americans who we wanted to highlight and if you have other individuals you would like us to feature, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog was written in collaboration, Selwa Moharram, Strategy Partner, and Digital & Research Intern, Anthony 'TJ' Henry Jr.