Throughout history, freed and enslaved African Americans have shown great entrepreneurial drive and instinct. From those that were ‘Free Negroes’ in the late 1700s that ran small service-based business to our millionaires and billionaires of today, African Americans have shown great resiliency in their efforts to push through the difficult times and create for themselves a space they can live in and thrive. There are a couple of greats that I would like to start off by highlighting…
PAUL CUFFE, ENTREPRENEUR
As noted above, Blacks in America excelled in developing great businesses that rivaled their white counterparts pre-Civil War. One such man in the 18th century, Paul Cuffe, the son of an Ashanti from Ghana and a Wampanoag Indian woman in Massachusetts, was a prominent sea captain whose ships and all-black crews serviced the Atlantic Coast and sailed to Europe and Africa. (http://www.infoplease.com/biography/var/paulcuffe.html)
Another Black businessman from the 1800s was William Leidesdorg, who was described as being America’s first millionaire of black descent. This Afro Cuban West Indies native, during the 1840s, found himself in the business of trade and real estate in California (at that time under Mexican rule). He also built the City Hotel, San Francisco’s first hotel, and became the city’s first treasurer.(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Leidesdorff)
Entrepreneurship early in Black history can be found in the freed slaves or free Blacks that resided in America up through Reconstruction. They were Blacks that focused their businesses on services and trades that Whites felt were beneath them to do. These works included areas such as restaurant ownership, house/hotel keeping, to barbering and mechanics. Reports tell us that by 1890, something like 5000 Blacks operated a business. It’s noted that these businesses that Blacks were running were heavy in the service and retail industries, as stated before. One of the most prominent areas was barbering and beautician businesses. Both were simple trades that could learned rather quickly or self taught and was something that was highly needed and desired in the community. So those with a knack for human beautification, opted to go within these areas to enhance their finances.
Our Black communities have always thrived, and possessed structure and flow. We can see a lot of our ancestors tenacity and drive within ourselves. Creating something from nothing is a trait that lives and resonates within our DNA. And we ask the question why aren’t we well represented within the business community? There are lots of variables that come into play, starting with the history of our ancestors, and the difficulties they faced in society and constraints placed on them. I personally see a mirror effect of “what was” to now “what is”. This is a layered topic that I will have to peel away slowly but carefully. I will spend the next few weeks bringing to light a pressing issue that is “Entrepreneurship in the Black Community”
Mario Hunt, COO of Empowered Strategy