Immediately following Emancipation, there were 4,047 millionaires in the United States — and six of them were African American. Between 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.
Many people think that Michael Jordan, Bob Johnson, and Oprah Winfrey were the first Black people to generate a seven figure income, but this is not true!
Long before they were even born, these six African American men and women were actually the first pioneers to become millionaires:
#1 – Mary Ellen Pleasant: who used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown;
#2 – Robert Reed Church: who became the largest landowner in Tennessee;
#3 – Hannah Elias: the mistress of a New York City millionaire, who used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem;
#4 – Annie Turnbo-Malone: An orphan and self-taught chemist who developed the first national brand of hair care products;
#5 – Madam C. J Walker: An former employee of Annie Turnbo-Malone, who went on to earn the nickname America’s “first female black millionaire;”
#6 – O. W. Gurley: A school teacher from Mississippi who developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a “town” for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as “the Black Wall Street.”
However, nearly all these unforgettable personalities were often attacked, demonized, and/or swindled out of their wealth.
For more details about these stories, check out the book Black Fortunes: The Story of the First 6 African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by author Shomari Wills.