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Black History in Finance

Published on February 29, 2024

Black History in Finance

The history of Black individuals in finance is rich and inspiring, marked by resilience, determination, and groundbreaking achievements. In honor of Black History Month, let's delve into the stories of some remarkable figures who defied societal constraints and paved the way for generations to come.


Absolom Jones - Breaking Chains and Building Bridges


Absolom Jones, born into slavery in 1746, defied the odds by securing freedom and becoming the first priest. His journey exemplifies the struggle for freedom, education, and racial equality. His efforts, along with Richard Allen, led to the establishment of the Free African Society (FAS), a mutual aid society that later became a model for African American banks.


Capital Savings Bank - Empowering Black-Owned Businesses


In 1888, Capital Savings Bank emerged as the first bank organized and operated by African Americans. Despite racial barriers, CSB thrived and played a crucial role in providing capital to black-owned businesses when traditional banks refused. Its impact was felt until its closure in 1902, showcasing the importance of financial institutions within the African-American community.


Maggie Lena Walker - Pioneering African American Banking


Maggie Lena Walker, born in 1864, shattered glass ceilings by becoming the first African American woman to charter a US bank. As the president of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, Walker not only empowered her community financially but also contributed to social change by promoting education and thriftiness. Her legacy persisted through the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company.


Alonzo Herndon - From Peddler to Millionaire


Alonzo Herndon's journey from slavery to becoming Atlanta's first black millionaire is a testament to his entrepreneurial spirit. Starting as a barber, he ventured into real estate and insurance, founding the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in 1905. Herndon's success showcased the potential for economic empowerment within the African American community.


O.W. Gurley - Architect of Black Wall Street


O.W. Gurley's story is intricately linked to the rise of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Establishing businesses, providing loans, and creating a self-sustained community on Greenwood Avenue, Gurley defied segregation laws. Despite the devastating Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, Gurley's legacy remains a testament to the resilience of Black entrepreneurship.


Richard Wright - Founding the National Association of Negro Bankers


In 1927, Richard Wright, born into slavery in 1855, played a pivotal role in forming the National Association of Negro Bankers. This organization aimed to unite African American bankers for consultation and cooperation, fostering a sense of community and empowerment.


Joseph L. Searles III - Breaking Barriers on Wall Street


Joseph Searles' journey from a successful football career to becoming the first African American floor member and floor broker on the New York Stock Exchange in 1970 reflects his commitment to breaking racial barriers in finance.


Azie Taylor Morton - Trailblazing in Government Finance


Azie Taylor Morton's appointment as the 36th Treasurer of the United States in 1977 marked a historic moment. Overcoming adversity, she left her imprint on financial policies, and her signature adorned all federal reserve notes.


Ron Brown - Democratizing Leadership


Ron Brown's rise from Harlem to becoming the first African American chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989 was a groundbreaking achievement. His subsequent role as Secretary of Commerce in Bill Clinton's administration showcased his dedication to public service and leadership.


Robert L. Johnson - Media Mogul and Billionaire


Robert Johnson's journey from working in public broadcasting to founding Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1980 revolutionized media representation. BET's listing on the NYSE in 1991 made Johnson the first African American billionaire.


Lauren Simmons - Shattering Ceilings on Wall Street


In 2018, Lauren Simmons made history as the youngest on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Her achievement reflects the ongoing journey towards diversity and inclusion in the financial world.



The history of Black individuals in finance is a narrative of triumph over adversity, resilience in the face of discrimination, and pioneering efforts to build economic empowerment within the African American community. These trailblazers have not only left an indelible mark on the financial landscape but have also paved the way for future generations to strive for excellence and equality.

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Author: Sarah Beth McMillan

Categories: Blog, Community




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